ACLU Urges Congress to Support Barr/Watt Privacy Protection Bill

May 1, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Concerned with the ever-increasing erosion of privacy in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to support legislation — sponsored by Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Mel Watt (D-NC) — that would incorporate key privacy protections into the operations of federal agencies.

“The same technology that has brought such great benefit to this country has also opened the door to unwanted snooping and the accidental disclosure of deeply personal information,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “Reps. Barr and Watt have taken a key step toward restoring the proper level of individual privacy in America.”

Nojeim testified this morning at a hearing on the bill in front of the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Barr. The legislation, titled the “Federal Agency Protection of Privacy Act,” would require federal agencies to prepare a “privacy impact statement” when they propose new regulations.

The ACLU supports the measure because it would establish basic checks and balances on federal agencies’ decisions to use and disclose individually identifiable information. The legislation’s privacy impact statement builds the principles of Fair Information Practices into the rulemaking process and would put the public on notice about the choices federal agencies are making about the use and disclosure of personal information.

The bill is also particularly well considered, the ACLU said, in its moderate and balanced approach to the issue. The legislation is modeled on an existing law — called the “Regulatory Flexibility Act” — and would not undermine the rulemaking process or inhibit important government policy goals. For example, the legislation only applies to rulemaking, not to the vast amount of administrative action that falls outside the Administrative Procedure Act’s rulemaking process, including adjudication, informal action and guidance.

The ACLU pointed to — as a case illustrating the need for passage of the Barr bill — a 1999 flap where numerous agencies were forced to rescind proposed regulations calling for the banking industry to put measures in place to track Americans’ routine banking practices and report them to the government. The agencies were overwhelmed by almost 300,000 comments in opposition and were forced to retreat from the regulation, dubbed the “Know Your Customer” scheme.

The ACLU’s Testimony can be found at:

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