Statement of Chairman Steve Chabot
Subcommittee on the Constitution
Joint Hearing on H.R. 338: The Defense of Privacy Act
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
First, I want to thank you, Chairman Cannon, for your tremendous leadership and willingness to hold this joint hearing on the Defense of Privacy Act. Today’s hearing is necessary because federal agencies too often promulgate rules and dictate policy without consideration for the ultimate ramifications on the privacy of the American people.
Privacy is not a partisan issue. Privacy is a value important to ALL citizens – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. It is an intrinsic American value.
The right of Americans to live free of excessive government intrusion is a long-established principle in our nation’s history. Many have interpreted personal privacy as one of the “Blessings of Liberty” secured in the Preamble to our Constitution. Certainly, the Bill of Rights established important privacy protections.
Throughout our nation’s history, the Supreme Court has placed a high value on these rights as well. In 1886, Justice Clark opined for the Court in Boyd v. the United States that the doctrines of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments “apply to all invasions on the part of the government and its employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.”
More recently, in his concurring opinion in Katz v. United States, Justice Harlan succinctly stated that the Fourth Amendment provided citizens a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
When I first introduced the Defense of Privacy Act in the 106th Congress, I did so because of an increasing concern that this “reasonable expectation” is, too often, an afterthought in the regulatory process. We have seen attempt after attempt by federal agencies to implement ominous regulations that allow the government to invade the privacy of American citizens. From financial information to medical records, the federal government has sought access to highly sensitive information without regard to the privacy implications.
The Defense of Privacy Act provides a straight-forward solution to this problem. The legislation would, for the first time, require federal agencies to assess the privacy implications of the proposed rules or regulations. Through this process, we would shine a light on the potentially negative impact of government regulations on personal privacy – at the same time, encouraging federal agencies to more fully consider the merits of each proposal and review less intrusive alternatives.
This legislation is particularly relevant today. Significant technological advancements have prompted a flurry of government proposals to employ new tools to effectively fight crime and combat terrorism. While some of these programs may ultimately prove useful and provide legitimate information to the government, Congress and the Administration must also work to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans – especially where the collection and dissemination of personally identifiable information is concerned.
In recent years, we have heard a steady stream of reports about programs or policies in both the public and private sector that raise privacy concerns – from reports of drastic increases in identity theft to government proposals like the FDIC’s “Know Your Customer” regulations and data-mining systems like the FBI’s “Carnivore.” So, we recognize that this is not an easy task today, and it will not get any easier in the future. Yet, passing this common-sense legislation is a good first step. Requiring all federal agencies to assess privacy implications of proposed rules and regulations will elevate the issue and generate important debate – strengthening the rights of every American.
I look forward to hearing the testimony from our distinguished witnesses today.