August 14, 2000
Right to Privacy Too Often Overlooked
From time to time, some of my colleagues in the House of Representatives claim that the federal government needs the power to monitor Americans so it can operate more efficiently. While I do not doubt their good intentions, I would remind them that in the United States, the people should never be asked to sacrifice their liberties to make the job of government a little easier. The government is here to protect the freedom of the American people, not to invade their privacy in the name of efficient government.
With that in mind, I have introduced two key pieces of legislation aimed at curtailing governmental privacy invasions. The first is the "Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act" (HR 220). This bill forbids federal or state governments from using your Social Security number for purposes not directly related to administering the Social Security system. When Social Security was introduced, the American people were told that their number would never become a form of national identifier. In fact, until the 1970ís all Social Security cards stated on the back that the card was not an ID card. Unfortunately, cards issued today do not contain that same phrase, and Congress has been all too eager to expand the use of Social Security numbers.
For example, in 1998 over 200 members of Congress voted to allow states to force citizens to produce a Social Security number before they could exercise their right to vote. Also, day-to-day private business dealings are becoming increasingly difficult without a Social Security number. You cannot open a bank account, get married, or even obtain a fishing license without disclosing your Social Security number. My bill will restore privacy to Americans who currently are being abused by overreaching government.
The other piece of legislation I have introduced is the "Census Privacy Act" (HR 4085). This bill will prohibit the Census Bureau from collecting any information from citizens except for their name, address and the number of people per residence. That is all Congress needs for a head count of the population in order to re-draw congressional districts every ten years as is required by the Constitution.
I introduced this legislation after scores of calls to my office during the recent census process from constituents who thought the long forms were too intrusive. There is no reason why the federal government needs to know how much money you make or how many bathrooms you have in your home. This information is personal and private, and I am committed to restoring to Americans the peace of mind that comes from knowing that every detail of their lives is not being recorded.
On a more positive note, privacy advocates scored a major victory this summer when the House passed an amendment I proposed to an appropriations bill that will prohibit the federal government from imposing a uniform standard health identifier on the American people. As a doctor, I know how important it is to insure patient confidentiality, and I am very pleased my colleagues supported the amendment. It is the only way to guarantee that national medical IDís do not become a reality.
The other major privacy victory recently was when the federal government withdrew proposed Know Your Customer regulations which would have forced banks to report practically every customer transaction to the government. I was proud to lead the effort on the Banking Committee to stop this invasion of privacy with my "Bank Secrecy Sunset Act" (HR 518), would have overturned any such regulations. Fortunately, the proposal was withdrawn before the legislation was needed, but I believe this will be an ongoing battle. Those advocating more intrusion by the government will continue their legislative efforts, and we must stand ready to face that constant threat.