Democratic Convention Speaker Spotlights Privacy

FRAMINGHAM (08/16/2000) - The Democrats turned the spotlight on personal privacy protection Tuesday at their party convention in Los Angeles. Their messenger was Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington, who said the privacy of Americans is "under siege."

"Big banks and businesses are profiling our spending habits, they are selling our credit-card records to telemarketers; our medical records can be abused," said Inslee, speaking Tuesday from the convention podium. "If we don't build legal shields of protection, our private lives will be stripped open by the combined forces of industry and government intrusion."

"For what does liberty mean if our most personal affairs are sold to the highest bidder? Nothing. Our privacy is not up for sale," he added.

The Democrats "have been more forward about making privacy an issue at the convention then the Republicans," said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, who is at the convention. "The Republicans had a discussion about it in their platform, as the Democrats did, but the Democrats are bringing it to the podium."

Businesses are worried about the impact privacy legislation may have on the sharing and integration of data. They are attempting to convince lawmakers that self-regulatory effort can protect consumer privacy, while also stressing to consumers the benefits of that data sharing can bring, including personalized services.

Although Inslee claimed the privacy issue as a Democratic one, Schwartz said there are many Republicans who have been "very good" on the privacy issue. The Congressional privacy caucus, for instance, has both Democrats and Republicans, and many of the pending privacy bills have bipartisan support, he said. "It really has not been a bipartisan issue and that has been really beneficial to us," he added.

Vice President Al Gore has called for improved financial and medical privacy protection, and in April outlined a series of measures to protect financial privacy. But on the larger and perhaps more controversial issue of comprehensive privacy legislation, neither presidential candidate has offered details on what they might do once elected. Inslee, in his remarks, didn't offer any specific details about the kinds of protection that are needed.

"The overwhelming majority of American people are concerned about privacy," said Mark Uncapher, a vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group. "The sentiment is very real out there, the devil is obviously in the details."

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