Bill would make feds consider privacy

By DEE ANN DIVIS, Science and Technology Editor  |  April 24, 2002 at 11:44 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 24 (UPI) -- Federal agencies would have to assess the privacy impact of the new regulations they propose, taking public comments into account in the process, if legislation introduced Wednesday by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., becomes law.

The Federal Agency Protection of Privacy Act, backed by diverse political interests, would require that a privacy impact statement be issued whenever a notice of a new regulation -- or a new interpretation of tax law -- is published. The public would be able to comment on the initial statement and their comments would be folded into a final impact statement that would also be published. The courts could be called on to ensure that agencies not ignore the need for the impact statements.

The bill has bipartisan support as well as endorsement from groups on both ends of the political spectrum. Barr was flanked during his announcement of the bill by nearly a half-dozen Democratic and Republican congressmen including Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; George Gekas, R-Pa.; Ronnie Shows, D-Miss.; and Melvin Watt, D-N.C.

Also there to show support were representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association and the Eagle Forum, a conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

The legislation will likely be the subject of a hearing next week, Barr told reporters.

The impact statements would have to address how the regulation provides notice of what data is being collected and for what purpose, enables individuals to see and correct data, and assures that data will be protected and only used for the stated purposes. These practices are increasingly seen as requirements of any serious privacy policy.

"What's important about the Federal Agency Protection of Privacy Act is that it codifies fair information practices in the evaluation of new agency rule makings," Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told United Press International.

The NRA was supporting the bill because of concerns about records being kept on gun owners and members of the gun industry said NRA federal liaison John Frazer. He cited the desire of the FBI to store gun purchase information for 18 months. One particular concern, he told UPI, was if such records are used for other than the originally intended purpose. For example, anti-gun lawyers might try to subpoena gun buying records.

Barr noted that new laws enacted in response to the Sept. 11 attacks had cut into individual privacy. He added that the government had legitimate areas of concern. The new bill, if passed, had provisions for quick action and would "absolutely not" hamper law enforcement he said.

Barr told UPI that many law enforcement activities would not be subjected to the provisions in the bill. He added that federal requirements for a national ID card, even if proposed as a law enforcement tool, would likely have to meet the requirements for an impact statement. Several proposals for such a card, or cards with similar features like a fingerprint and other identity information, have been proposed as a way to combat terrorism, identity theft and problems like illegal immigration.

The bill also has a provision requiring agencies to periodically review privacy impact of their current regulations and consider whether the regulation could be changed to reduce privacy intrusion.

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