Wasn't there once a federal privacy act?

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by DC_DEEP, May 16, 2007.

  1. DC_DEEP

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    I found this article in The Examiner, a syndicated newspaper. The author has several really good articles, if you care to google-search her name.

    Melanie Scarborough: Wasn’t there once a federal privacy act?

    WASHINGTON “No agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains.” – The Privacy Act of 1974
    In the early 1970s, the nascent computerization of records was a boon for combating welfare fraud: Creating a central database made it easier to track how much money was going to whom.
    But Elliott Richardson, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services ), also foresaw the danger of such databases. He appointed a committee to study the situation, which concluded in 1973 that “the net effect of computerization is that it is becoming much easier for record-keeping systems to affect people than for people to affect record-keeping systems.”
    The committee recommended five principles that were the basis for the Privacy Act of 1974:

    1. There must be no personal data record-keeping systems whose very existence is secret.

    2. There must be a way for an individual to find out what information about him is in a record and how it is used.
    3. There must be a way for an individual to prevent information about him that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without his consent.
    4. There must be a way for an individual to correct or amend a record of identifiable information about him.
    5. Any organization creating, maintaining, using, or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for their intended use and must take precautions to prevent misuse of the data.
    Quaint, isn’t it? Keeping secret files on citizens and sharing that information with other entities is the principal function of many federal agencies today. So why doesn’t Congress either tighten the Privacy Act and insist that agencies abide it, or be honest enough to take it off the books?
    One of the problems with the law is that it has too many loopholes — in particular, the exemption for any agency component charged with preventing, controlling, or reducing crime.
    That allows such abuses as the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services claiming that their Offices of Civil Rights are law-enforcement agencies, and therefore their records of discrimination complaints are off-limits. What purpose does that serve except to deny the rights of the accused?
    When the Department of Energy added to its list of exempted records those pertaining to employee complaints and concerns, whistleblower protection, and its “Office of Intelligence,” did Congress ask any questions?
    Among the worst offenders is the Department of Transportation, which compiles secret records on air-travelers that they are not allowed to see — even if they are mistakenly placed on a “watch list.”
    And DOT cannot use terrorism as an excuse; it began declaring exemptions to the Privacy Act long before Sept. 11, 2001. For instance, in 1998, when the Coast Guard was building a database on boat-owners “to provide a nationwide pool of vessel and vessel-owner information,” DOT recognized that as a violation of the Privacy Act. So it simply declared an exemption, saying the information could be used for law-enforcement purposes.
    The Privacy Act specifically protects information containing “personal identifiers,” and nothing is more personally identifiable than fingerprints or DNA. Nonetheless, the Department of Homeland Security declared its database of biometric identifiers exempt from privacy law.
    In doing so, DHS offered the same excuses as other agencies — the need “to avoid disclosure of activity techniques” and to protect the anonymity of government informants. But DHS adds a more stunning explanation: because “disclosure could alert the subject to the investigation of an actual or potential criminal, civil, or regulatory violation.”
    Since that wording includes everyone who might someday get a parking ticket, who still has a right to privacy?
    We now have a government that routinely insists it is entitled to withhold information from citizens, but that citizens have no right to withhold information from their government.
    You can’t even open a bank account without submitting personal identifiers so it can be tracked. Naïve people argue that no one should object to being monitored by the government unless they’re doing something wrong.
    But privacy is the manifestation of freedom. And the principal distinction between a free society and a police state is who keeps tabs on whom.
    Examiner columnist Melanie Scarborough lives in Alexandria, VA.
     
  2. Pecker

    Pecker Retired Moderator
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    You mean the part where the FBI wasn't allowed to search a congressman's office? :tongue:
     
  3. dong20

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    What Melanie seems to have, err, omitted is where it goes on to qualify the conditions of disclosure....

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"....unless disclosure of the record would be--[/FONT]

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](1) to those officers and employees of the agency which maintains the record who have a need for the record in the performance of their duties; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](2) required under section 552 of this title; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](3) for a routine use as defined in subsection (a)(7) of this section and described under subsection (e)(4)(D) of this section;[/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](4) to the Bureau of the Census for purposes of planning or carrying out a census or survey or related activity pursuant to the provisions of Title 13; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](5) to a recipient who has provided the agency with advance adequate written assurance that the record will be used solely as a statistical research or reporting record, and the record is to be transferred in a form that is not individually identifiable; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](6) to the National Archives and Records Administration as a record which has sufficient historical or other value to warrant its continued preservation by the United States Government, or for evaluation by the Archivist of the United States or the designee of the Archivist to determine whether the record has such value; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](7) to another agency or to an instrumentality of any governmental jurisdiction within or under the control of the United States for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity if the activity is authorized by law, and if the head of the agency or instrumentality has made a written request to the agency which maintains the record specifying the particular portion desired and the law enforcement activity for which the record is sought; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](8) to a person pursuant to a showing of compelling circumstances affecting the health or safety of an individual if upon such disclosure notification is transmitted to the last known address of such individual; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](9) to either House of Congress, or, to the extent of matter within its jurisdiction, any committee or subcommittee thereof, any joint committee of Congress or subcommittee of any such joint committee; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](10) to the Comptroller General, or any of his authorized representatives, in the course of the performance of the duties of the General Accounting Office; [/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](11) pursuant to the order of a court of competent jurisdiction; or[/FONT]​

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif](12) to a consumer reporting agency in accordance with section 3711(e) of Title 31."[/FONT]​
    Though I don't disagree with her contention that the act serves as much use as chocolate teapot that would pretty much seem to allow a blank cheque as far as disclosure goes, I'd say.:rolleyes:

    THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a -- As Amended
     
  4. DC_DEEP

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    I think that was the point of one sentence that she included in the column:

    One of the problems with the law is that it has too many loopholes — in particular, the exemption for any agency component charged with preventing, controlling, or reducing crime.

    And of course, I think that part of her point is the "as amended" thingy. Once the feds realized that they were prohibited by the very laws that they passed, they had to amend that law to provide a way around... to the point where the whole Privacy Act of 1974 no longer has any meaning at all. Maybe that's where she got the title of her column... didn't we used to have a privacy act?
     
  5. Lex

    Lex
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    In Your Darkest Thoughts and Dreams
    Privacy is, sadly, an illusion.
     
  6. B_big dirigible

    B_big dirigible New Member

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    The story is prima facie absurd. It can't possibly be true, 'cause Richardson was a Republican. You know, the Spawn of Evil party.
     
  7. dong20

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    Exactly, in the sense the thread title is something of a rhetorical question, or at least that's how I read it.

    Her intention being to draw attention to the erosion of the original act leaving privacy legislation with more holes than Swiss cheese, well that's hardly original, shocking or indeed surprising at least to me - Hence the bits I highlighted and where I said that the resultant act was as useful as a chocolate teapot.

    As Lex said above; today privacy is an illusion. It's no better over here.
     
  8. B_big dirigible

    B_big dirigible New Member

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    I'd say physical or intellectual freedom - that is, actual freedom, in any real sense - is the manifestation of "freedom". And obsession with privacy is a manifestation of chronic fear. "Freedom from government records" is a cute concept, but hardly vital.

    The cited definition of a "police state" seems frivolous. The great crimes of the National Socialist and the Soviet police states, the two great examples from the last century, were not their obsessions with paperwork.

    Government record-keeping, data mining, and even covert observation are no more signs of creeping totalitarianism than a normal body temperature is a sign of an impending fever.
     
  9. DC_DEEP

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    Your attempt at levity and partisan bullshit fails miserably. Her article about taxes in northern Virginia specifically takes democrats to task. Please, cease and desist with your "republicans are great, democrats are evil" dramatics. Focus on the good or the harm that they do, regardless of party politics.
    No argument there. Unfortunately, most of the sheeple don't have a clue. They are under the sadly mistaken impression that many of our laws still have function. You and I know that the laws have been castrated.
    I know you are not that naive, BD. The privacy invasions and the record keeping are not the problem. It's what's done with them.
     
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