Thursday, December 14, 2006

Giving Americans privacy rights

Senator Patrick Leahy"At a time when government is trying to databank and datamine more and more information about ordinary Americans, this Administration has been less and less willing to let us know what they are doing.

Americans’ privacy is a price the Bush Administration is willing to pay for the cavalier way it is spawning new databanks. But privacy rights belong to the people, not to the government. They need to stop treating the privacy of ordinary Americans as an expendable commodity.

When it comes to protecting Americans’ privacy, what we have today are analog rules in a digital world. We are way overdue in catching up to the erosion of privacy, and the Judiciary Committee now will help to bring this picture into focus. This will be one of our highest priorities.

I have long questioned Secretary Rumsfeld about the Defense Department’s creation of dossiers on Quakers and peaceful anti-war protestors. Congress acted to rein in Admiral Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program. Recently we learned through the press -- and I’m thankful for a free and vigilant press -- that the Bush Administration has secretly been compiling dossiers on millions of law-abiding Americans. It is incredible that the Administration has reportedly been sharing this sensitive information with foreign governments and even private employers, while refusing to allow U.S. citizens to see or challenge the so-called terror score that the government has assigned them based on their travel schedules.

New and improved technologies make data banks and data mining more powerful and more useful than they have ever been before. They can be important tools in our national security arsenal, and we should use them in an effective way. But data banks are ripe for abuse and prone to mistakes without proper safeguards. A mistake can cost Americans their jobs and wreak havoc in their lives and reputations that can take years to repair. Mistakes on government watch lists have become legendary in recent years and would be comical if not a tragic reflection of dangerous government incompetence. Not only do we need checks and balances to keep government data bases from being misused against the American people, that is what the Constitution and our laws require." —Senator Patrick Leahy, forthcoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (thanks, Dave!)

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