ACLU Launches Special Web Collection On Privacy and Data Protection

March 8, 1999 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — Urging netizens everywhere to defend their data, the American Civil Liberties Union today launched a special website to focus public attention on the threat to personal privacy through the collection and widespread distribution of personal data.

The new web collection features several interactive elements, including:

  • A complaint form where individuals can spell out their privacy horror stories.
  • A tool that shows individuals just what can be learned about them on the web.
  • A survey and postcard utility.
  • Faxable letters to Congress.
  • A discussion forum.

The web collection marks the ACLU’s increasing efforts to protect individual privacy in America. “We clearly have our work cut out for us to derail what has been an endless stream of proposals that attack our privacy rights,” said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. “And although many believe widespread dissemination of our data is harmless, the ACLU believes that what they do know, can hurt us.”

Glasser pointed out that 200 years ago nearly every bit of personal information about an individual was kept at home, on paper, and stored as a personal effect. “To protect privacy of this information,” he said, “early Americans insisted on the Fourth Amendment, which established the home as a person’s ‘castle,’ inviolate against government searches except when warranted by a court for very specific and particular criminal investigations.”

The Fourth Amendment still protects the privacy of our homes, but personal information isn’t exclusively stored there anymore, Glasser said. Now, a wide array of personal information about each of us is kept electronically by others — by medical insurers, employers, credit card companies, banks, phone companies and a wide range of government and private agencies.

“Some of these entities exist solely to sell our personal information, no matter how private,” Glasser said. “And new technologies keep arising to develop, collect, store and disseminate the most private information about each of us, with few if any legal protections.”

A leading privacy advocate, the ACLU is a nationwide, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending and preserving the Bill of Rights for all individuals through litigation, legislation and public education. Headquartered in New York City, the ACLU has 53 staffed affiliates in major cities, more than 300 chapters nationwide, and a legislative office in Washington. The bulk of its $35 million annual budget is raised by contributions from members — 275,000 strong — and gifts and grants from other individuals and foundations. The ACLU does not accept government funds.

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