New Legislation Could Delay Privacy Protections

WASHINGTON (05/15/2000) - A Clinton administration official warned today that a plan to create a congressional commission to study privacy might be used to delay needed privacy protections - especially the administration's recently proposed financial privacy reforms.

Congress is considering legislation by Reps. Asa Hutchinson (Republican-Arkansas) and Jim Moran (Democrat-Virginia), to create a 17-member group that would get $2.5 million and 18 months to take a comprehensive look at privacy issues. The legislation is called the Privacy Commission Act.

But John Spotila, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, testifying today before a House subcommittee today, said the commission is being supported by those who "would prefer to have Congress study this issue rather than take action."

"The commission might be a reason for people not to take action on financial privacy legislation, which we think is clearly needed," Spotila told the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.

The Clinton administration recently proposed a series of financial privacy reforms that would require financial services companies to get the express consent of customers in order to share financial data, medical and insurance records.

But Hutchinson argued that the bill wasn't designed to block privacy legislation.

"It is certainly not the intent of the privacy commission to serve as a delay on other legitimate efforts to address privacy concerns," he said. "I've always viewed this as complementary."

Subcommittee Chairman Stephen Horn (Republican-California) said the commission might be useful in bringing consensus. "If you go through that process, you are more likely to get legislation out of Congress," he said.

But Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, who also testified, said a special-interest laden commission is not likely to reach consensus.

Hatch said the time was now for policymakers to "have the courage to take on these (special) interests" and enact some legislation.

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