Where does George W. stand on privacy issues?

By Lisa S. Dean
web posted October 9, 2000

Remember during the 1992 Democratic National Convention when Ted Kennedy stood at the podium and ticked off a host of issues and after every one, asked "Where was George?" referring to President Bush's attention or lack thereof to issues that Kennedy thought were important to the country?

Well, unfortunately, eight years later we might start asking the same question of George W. on the issue of privacy. For instance, under the Clinton/Gore Administration the practice of doctor/patient confidentiality and patients' rights have become non-existent.

Under this Administration, doctors are required to report to the government what diseases, illnesses and other ailments he treats you for and what medicines he prescribes. All of that information is stored in government databases here not only government officials but law enforcement officers as well as your current or potential employer has access to the information. Where is George on the issue of medical privacy?

Under the Clinton/Gore Administration, we saw such outrageous proposals such as Know Your Customer where banks and other financial institutions were required to monitor the account activity of each of its customers and report any deviations from their normal spending or deposit patterns to federal law enforcement in the event that you happen to be laundering money. The personal information including checking account or credit card numbers, the amount you owe in loans and other personal financial information collected by banks on their customers is shared with insurance companies and mortgage brokers without your consent. Where is George on the issue of financial privacy?

Under the Clinton/Gore Administration, we saw the number of federal agents quadruple, and a federal law enforcement agency that sought to gut the Fourth Amendment by expanding its surveillance powers to the point where agents no longer have to get a warrant to wiretap a person's telephone line, instead, they get a warrant to tap all of the phones in the vicinity of a suspect. So if your neighbor is a suspect in a crime, the private conversations that you may be having in your own home may not be so private after all.

This same Administration believed that all cell phones should have location tracking features installed and the FBI went as far as to demand that cell phone manufacturers be required to install such features in every model of phone in order for law enforcement to track the location of cell phone users - again, all in the name of fighting crime.

In addition to tracking our location via our cell phones, we have also seen an increase in surveillance cameras along our nation's highways and neighborhood street corners, to keep us under the ever-watchful eye of government.

In addition, federal law enforcement agencies sought the legal authority to enter a person's home without serving a warrant, seize property without taking inventory, all in the name of fighting crime. Again, I ask, Where is George on the role of law enforcement surveillance practices vs. our Constitutional rights?

Under the Clinton/Gore Administration we have witnessed the stifling of strong encryption technology. Encryption would allow us to keep our personal online information and conversations secure from eavesdroppers and identity thieves. This Administration treated encryption as a "munition" and required anyone who wished to develop it to first apply for a license to be a firearms dealer and then proceeded to reject such applications from cryptographers. Most people have never heard of encryption, tech companies and individuals aren't really allowed to develop it and the result is that our personal correspondence and online information is not secure and easy to steal. Where is George on the issue of encryption?

Finally, identity theft continues to be a growing problem in the US because there are few or no restrictions on the public and private sector's practices of collecting and sharing our personal, private data with marketers or the highest bidder. The Clinton/Gore Administration has not only allowed this practice of information sharing but has in the case of medical, financial and employment data, required it! Because government agencies and private sector entities are required to collect our information and allowed to sell it, identity theft is a booming business and has already affected over 100,000 Americans. Where is George on the issue of identity theft and the collection of our personal information?

This is not to say that George W. Bush would be as horrible as the current Administration has been on issues related to our liberties. In fact, in my opinion, I think he would be a great improvement over the current situation but unfortunately, he's keeping his views on privacy, well . . . private. These issues are of great concern to the American people and they are not a flash in the pan.

As technology continues to play a larger role in our lives, the threats to our liberties will become greater and the American people need to know whether the candidates who aspire to run this country will defend them or continue along the same path of erosion that we've been traveling for the last eight years.

Lisa Dean is Vice President for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

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