- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

Conservatives and liberals joined forces yesterday to promote a bill that would require federal agencies to assess the effect of new regulations on individuals' privacy rights.
Conservative Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, and liberal Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York were flanked by members of the National Rifle Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Eagle Forum as they called for congressional action.
"From medical records to surveillance cameras, and from government snooping on the Internet to recent calls for a national ID, we are seeing firsthand, each day, the importance of guarding our right to privacy," Mr. Barr said. "All Americans deserve to know how new rules or regulations passed by the government will affect their right to privacy."
The legislation would require federal agencies to start a "privacy impact statement" upon proposing any new rule or regulation. After completion of a public comment period, the agency would be required to issue a final assessment detailing what steps it has taken to "minimize the impact on privacy," Mr. Barr said.
Similar legislation was introduced in the 106th Congress but died in the House without committee action. Mr. Barr said he hoped to hold a hearing on the new bill in the Judiciary Committee within a week.
Lawmakers said the new bill contains clearer definitions of the requirements to be placed upon federal agencies in conducting the privacy assessments. They also said congressional action last year to fight terrorism domestically could give the bill momentum.
Acting on the request of the White House, Congress quickly approved legislation last fall that gave the FBI and other federal agencies broad new investigative powers, including new wiretap authority and greater leeway to conduct searches and seizures.
"In the wake of the events of September 11, Congress acted promptly to provide law enforcement with the tools they needed to more effectively fight terrorism," said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican. "Because some of these tools could have an adverse impact on privacy rights, it's essential that federal agencies provide thoughtful consideration from a privacy perspective and focus on the privacy rights of our citizens."
Mr. Nadler said the privacy protections are important "even in this time of enhanced fears of terrorist attacks."
"It is important that the individual liberties of our citizens are not sacrificed to the war on terrorism," Mr. Nadler said. "We can have both privacy and security. We just have to strike the proper balance between the two."
He said the legislation could prevent, for example, the federal departments of Health and Human Services and Labor from collecting the names and addresses of anyone who contacts them.
"If the Department of Labor is going to start collecting private information about people, the people have the right to know that they are doing it," Mr. Nadler said. "They should see the kind of reports that this legislation mandates."
Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, said the issue of personal freedom often unites "an interesting array of people." He said sometimes such an issue will bring him together with conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.
"What happens is that I will move around from the left and Jesse Helms will move around from the right, and we will run into each other," Mr. Watt said. "Typically that occurs on matters involving individual liberties versus the rights of the government, and that's what this issue is all about."
Mr. Chabot said privacy rights "have too often been an afterthought in the regulatory process."
"We've seen attempt after attempt by federal agencies to implement ominous regulations that allow the government to invade the privacy of American citizens," he said. "From financial information to medical records, the federal government has sought access to highly sensitive information without regard to the privacy implications. This proposal would force agencies to open their eyes to legitimate privacy concerns."
Supporters of the bill also said it would provide for judicial review of regulations, which Rep. George Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, called "a key new element [of regulatory reform] to protect the public even more so than the impact statement might provide."

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