May 8, 2000
Government Snoops Threaten Privacy
Time To Put Chains on the Feds, Not Give Them More Power
Let's say you broke your arm and the doctor gave you a cast on the wrong arm. If you broke your leg one week later, would you go back to the same doctor to have your leg set?
When I see President Clinton suggesting he is going to protect the privacy rights of Americans I start to feel like the fella in the example just cited. Do I really trust Bill Clinton, or any U.S. President, to protect my privacy? Would the founding fathers accept the notion that the federal government is supposed to protect our privacy? Did they authorize that in the constitution?
Bill Clinton has been a terrible custodian of the public records with which he has been entrusted. He has allowed secrets to slip into the hands of the communist Chinese, but that is not all. This President has been found in violation of the Privacy Act by a federal court. Moreover, we all know the sad story of "filegate," when the White House improperly obtained private FBI files.
Now President Clinton says he wants to protect your privacy. Has he had a change of heart? Is he now prepared to take steps to make sure the federal government will no longer engage in the kinds of activities it has undertaken on his watch? Hardly!
Whenever this President talks about privacy protection he always means giving the federal government more power. What he wishes to restrict are private sector actions involving companies selling names or information. Certainly we should not be subject to the sale of our private information against our will. But there are existing methods to prevent such a thing from happening. Through the freedom to contract and the power of state laws such activities can be curtailed.
When it comes to our privacy rights however, we need to understand the idea from the view of those who ensconced our rights in a constitution. Our founding fathers understood privacy rights are held by individuals and ought not to be violated by the federal government. Mr. Clinton's attempts are to turn the thoughts of the founders upside down. He would have us believe that privacy rights are protected by federal intervention into the information economy. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing could be more contrary to the ideas of liberty.
If we really want to advance privacy we need to make sure our federal government has fewer records rather than giving it more power to create more lists and police more communications in the name of privacy protection. Let's look at the issue of identity theft as an example. What few realize is that the single greatest contributing factor to identity theft is the government-mandated Social Security number. Successful identity-thieves routinely rely on the Social Security number as the "key" to unlock the records of their victims. Just as the burglar uses a crow bar to open windows, the chief tool of the identity thief is the Social Security number.
If President Clinton were truly concerned with this invasion of privacy he would spend less time making speeches attacking the private sector, or proclaiming that he is tough on crime, and he would join with me in working to pass HR 220, restricting use of the Social Security number. We have essentially allowed that number to become a unique identifier for all sorts of purposes outside of those originally intended, and that is the problem my legislation seeks to address.