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(From Privacy Times, February 18, 2000)


On Feb. 10, two Republicans joined with two Democrats to announce formation of the first-ever Congressional Privacy Caucus, which most observers see as boosting the issue's visibility on the Hill.

Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Richard Bryan (D-NV), and Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-VA), said their inability to add stronger privacy protections to the Bank Modernization Bill underscored the need for an entity that could both educate other members and advocate legislation.

The Caucus hopes to hold it first briefing for Congressional members and staff in the coming weeks, a source said. The four lawmakers already have re-introduced their financial privacy bill. In response to a "Dear Colleague" letter that mentions the new Caucus, several members already have expressed an interest in joining, the source said.

The Caucus subscribes to the four principles: 1) individuals be informed when private firms or government agencies collect and/or disclose personally identifiable information; 2) individuals have a right to access their personally identifiable information and have the ability to correct it; 3) individuals must consent to a private company or government agency before it can disclose the individual's personally identifiable information; 4) federal privacy laws do not preempt stronger state privacy laws.

Noting their opposition to Gramm-Leach-Bliley Bill because of inadequate privacy protections, Shelby said, "Unfortunately, we were not able to sufficiently highlight the abuses and invasions of privacy so as to pass legitimate privacy protections. We believe the Congressional Privacy Caucus will help us bring these issues to the attention of Members of Congress by holding Congressional briefings, and by examining and recommending legislative proposals."

Markey said at a recent retreat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus unveiled opinion polls showing that privacy was the top issue of concern among a majority of respondents.

Privacy advocates, who generally favor legislation, lauded the move. Lisa Dean, of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF), said, "we must rely on Congress -- not the courts or federal agencies" -- to define Americans' privacy rights. FCF spokesman Robert McFarland added: "The formation of this caucus will bring privacy concerns to the forefront and serve to move the debate in the direction of protecting Americans' private information. Now more than ever we need legislation protecting our privacy from Big Brother and his Little Brother in corporate America."

Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president for the Direct Marketing Association, an opponent of most legislation, said, "We're going to work with them. We will probably agree on some things and disagree on others." Allen R. Caskie, executive director of the Financial Services Coordinating Council's privacy project, told the Bureau of National Affairs. "Anytime you get a bipartisan group together working on something and they are serious about it and want it, their concerns are going to be taken seriously."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., announced Feb. 9 the formation of a Senate Democratic Privacy Task Force, to be headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). ``The issue of privacy touches virtually every American, often in extremely personal ways,'' Daschle said in a statement. ``Whether it is bank records or medical files or Internet activities, Americans have a right to expect that personal matters will be kept private.''

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