Armey advises caution on privacy legislation

As a further sign that the rush to legislate on privacy has indeed cooled, House Majority Leader Dick Armey on Monday advised fellow lawmakers to proceed with caution.

Late last year, new online privacy laws seemed to be on a congressional fast track, especially after industry warmed to the idea of industry-wide legislation.

But Congress now seems to be taking a slower approach, for many of the reasons outlined in a memo Republican Armey is now circulating on Capitol Hill.

"Figuring out exactly what we must do to protect sensitive information in this new environment is no easy task. Many pitfalls await those who rush into this complicated, emotional issue," warned Armey.

Armey then pointed the federal government's own "privacy problems" as a chief reason to slow down. Government privacy gaffes are a pet issue of both Armey and Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, chairman the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Armey proceeds in his memo to recap the trouble now facing former President Clinton's stab at medical records privacy.

Armey said proposed rules crafted around HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) would yield "unintended consequences."

"It's unclear how requiring patients to sign a bunch of disclosure waiver forms will help protect privacy, improve health care or alleviate patient anxiety," Armey wrote.

Armey then moves to the argument which won many corporations over to the idea of federal privacy legislation: the fear of multiple state privacy laws.

"Even if Congress could preempt these state laws - and I am not aware of any consensus to do so - rushing to create a single unworkable federal statute is as bad or worse than having many unworkable state standards," he wrote.

Armey's parting advice to Congress: "Let's not love the Internet to death."

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