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Address by Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) at CFP 99 Conference.
Re: Privacy rights of individuals.

Date: April 6, 1999.
Source: This document was created by Tech Law Journal by transcribing an audio recording, and converting to HTML. Copyright 1999 Tech Law Journal. All rights reserved.

... It is discussed in the Congress, both in the House of Representatives, where I serve, as well as in the Senate. Rarely captures the headlines in a way that, in and of itself, motivates Members of Congress to do something about it. It doesn't deal with those things that normally grab the headlines. Therefore, it is very very difficult to get members interested in it beyond simply signing one letter at best. It is the sort of topic -- and that is, privacy rights of American citizens, privacy rights of citizens generally, and whether or not legislation in which Congress has been or may be involved in. Indeed, it was U.S. law, might prohibit, the gathering or misuse of privacy information, or information that is otherwise private, on American citizens.

In fact, it is being conducted through basically subverting federal laws and federal restrictions in a number of different ways. Some of which you will hear about from this panel and other panels, and which have been written about extensively in recent years, and once, and that is through international arrangements, through going, through taking the same information, and having it collected, or massaged by one country as opposed to another, in an effort to get around a particular country's domestic prohibitions, on gathering, or using, or maintaining that information.

But, with all of us being on the threshold of a new era in which these matters will be become infinitely more important, and valuable, that is, the privacy rights in information generally, I think that it is very very important that we focus on these efforts in the Congress, and publicly as well. Otherwise, it may reach the point that it does not matter what we do in the future. A mechanism and mechanisms will be in place that will make it virtually impossible to regain any semblance of privacy rights with regard -- either domestic, or internationally transmitted, information.

America is on the threshold of our third century. And, I think, if you will look back with regard to each of the two prior centuries, where we had a transition from one century to the next in which America was indeed an identifiable sovereign unit, we see different things that were perhaps paramount among the concerns of our citizens, commercial interests, as well as our government. I, perhaps, one thing that might come to mind is the most precious commodity when we make the transition as a young nation, from the 18th to the 19th Century, was perhaps natural resources. I put among that geography. There was a tremendous need to establish our value as a nation, and back in the 18th Century, and going into the 19th Century, the way you did that you aggrandized territory, you made yourself larger, you searched out and acquired those assets, those natural resources, gold and silver, and so forth, and so forth, which were in _____ at that time, being primarily identified with one's strength as a nation.

As we then fast forward a hundred years to our transition as a nation from the 19th to the 20th Century, perhaps we could identify capital, cash, as perhaps the most precious resource at that time. That was the time when individual industrialists, a conglomerate, were really developing, and the one perhaps hallmarked more than any other, although certainly, geography   was certainly important, that heralded the emergence of the United States of America as a world power, was the tremendous capital resources that we were developing and accumulating.

I would say, as we enter this, make this third century transition for the United States of America, from the 20th into the 21st Century, it is indeed not natural resources, geography, or capital, that is the most precious commodity, and which will indeed become, for our nature, and I would say, the entire world, at least the industrialized world, as the most important commodity, or most valuable asset is information. I think that without any doubt whatsoever, and the manipulation, the gathering, the maintenance of that information, will indeed represent perhaps more than any other single commodity power in the 21st Century.

So, as we look to Congress to help us to find as a people the parameters of how we deal with that very very precious commodity, and that is, information, and with it the concept of privacy for that information, there is indeed a role for Congress. But it will be, as I mentioned, just a few moments ago, one of the most difficult areas to get Congress to move on. Because it does not really have the indices of those matters that consume, or can identify, or spark the interests of Members of Congress the way others things seem to. It is going to be very very difficult. Yet I think we must.

And, I appreciate the mention that hearings that make _____. I have joined in that. I have also today asked for hearings to be conducted in this session of Congress, not simply on the Project Echelon, but on what it represents, in all of its parameters, not just the security or lack of security, with regard to international communications, but domestic communications, the privacy of domestic communications, Internet communications, telephone communication, wire transfers, and so forth, which frequently, as we have seen over the years, with regard to the intercept of domestic wire transmissions, for example, pursuant to court orders, the line between interstate and intrastate is sufficiently blurred that it no longer has any meaning. Internationally, I think we can pretty much say the same thing. It is almost impossible to neatly segregate out communications that are purely domestic, that are transmitted over domestic lines, and that satellite transmissions, net of wires, and what not, because, virtually, at almost, at some point in almost every transmission, or series of transmissions, there is enough of a nexus with an international communications device, so that virtually any agency can say, ah ha, we have jurisdiction over that because it is an international communication, or because it is somehow connected therewith.

So, the importance of focusing on this topic, I think, is extremely important. Yet, it will be very difficult to get Congress to focus on it. And, I think we have to keep in mind a couple of things that will help tremendously in an effort to get Congress to focus on this very very important issue. And, first and foremost, and we have learned this when we look back just over the last year or two, on those topics, that consumed the time of Congress, on a continual, or more than just sort of an ad hoc basis, we saw these things.

One is the public's involvement. The public was heavily involved, for example, in two victories, neither of which is absolute. But, at least they were victories, up to this point, that those of us who are concerned about the privacy rights of our citizens, can point to over the last year, year and a half. One was the "know your customer" regulations, which were composed late last year by the FDIC, and which in fact removed. They were not removed simply because I or any other particular Member of Congress drew attention to the fact. They were removed because of whole series of events. Most important was the fact that the public became involved in that. They communicated on a repetitive basis with Members of Congress, with members of the executive branch, and with the public medium, or the media, from a public standpoint

The other was the national ID card, which although it remains an issue, and we protected ourselves against further implementation of a federal national, or a federal ID card, only through the end of this fiscal year, which means only through the end of September of this year, at least, we did buy some time. And had we not been able to get that through very late in the legislative session last fall, that would be in the process of being implemented these days, right as we speak, virtually. So, there have a couple of examples, both of which, and there are some others, but those two, in particular, since they are, perhaps, more widely known than some of the other issues, in which the process sort of worked. And, that is, that even though one wishes we had not come to the standpoint, or come to the point, where these sorts of things are necessary, at least through public involvement, through the media drawing attention to these matters, and through some Republican and Democrat Members of Congress, recognizing these issues, for, among, the very most important, on the Congressional agenda, we were able to accomplish so important, at least buy some time, some important thing.

Another example illustrates the difficulties that we do face. And these topics don't break down any longer neatly along party lines. And this reflects in many ways the changing character of Congress. The demographic changes in Congress, the age differences in Congress, some of the old folks leaving, and coming in. It isn't that these issues break down with the Democrats on one side and  Republican on another. And so from a lobbying standpoint it makes it a lot more difficult, but must be done. The effort must be made.

Because, as we saw last fall with the roving wiretap legislation, these things can be snuck into legislation very very quickly, and in such a way that it makes it virtually impossible to stop it if members of both parties do come together to try to sort of circumvent the normal legislative process. For example, with regard to the roving wiretaps, we had been successful for about four years in stopping the expansion, that expansion, of roving wiretap authority. And, it, at the very end of the session last year, through concerted effort by Republicans, certain Republican members, the legislation, the authorization for expanding roving wiretaps, was slipped into an intelligence authorization bill with no hearings, with no public input, with no opportunity other than a last minute effort, in  which we had virtually, simply, a number of hours to try and marshall sufficient votes to defeat the intelligence authorization bill, which was impossible. And therefore, we moved, again, without any hearings, without any public input, from this point to this point. And we now have a vast expansion of wiretapping authority enjoyed by the federal government. And that sort of thing can happen virtually any day, whether they are talking about a specific privacy concern, regarding a specific federal authority, or something much broader, as we are discussing here today.

So, first and foremost, in order to identify to fight these battles, it is necessary to go to the public, to get the public involved on a repetitive basis. Use the tools available. Use the tools, such as are available, through the ACLU, through conservative groups as well. These issues span the political spectrum. Identify those groups that are involved that can work these issues, and work them over and over and over again.

Secondly, is to use the Internet. There are a lot of different groups out there that, whose mission is to help to identify these issues. Educate the public. Use them. And through them, communicate with Members of Congress, not just those Committees that are specifically involved, such as the Government Reform Committee, possibly National Security, possibly the Judiciary Committee. But, all of those different members, because they serve on a lot of different committees, each member does. And they know people that are on those committees that might have primary jurisdiction. And, if they start to get, hundreds, and then thousands, and then tens of thousands of phone calls, emails, faxes, petitions, postcards, whatever it is, then they go to somebody who serves on that committee and complain about it. That is when you know when you are getting through.

So, it is going to take hitting these issues, in every different way you can, over and over and over again. Because they issues do not grab the headlines. Therefore, they do not grab -- they do not readily grab the headlines -- therefore they will not readily grab the attention of individual Members of Congress. But if they are brought up over and over and over again, so that they cannot be ignored, then they will.

It will require more than simply legislation. It will require, even more importantly than legislation, because there are so many different ways that legislative prohibitions, or legislative proscriptions, can be circumvented. It will require oversight. And, it will require oversight by both Democrats and Republicans. So look for ways to make these issues nonpartisan, so we don't see what has happened in some areas in the last few years, where we have, in essence, a very very good oversight agenda, yet becomes bogged down in partisan politics that will guarantee that nothing will happen.

And, we have to be careful to avoid being divided and conquered. Congress does this. The administration does this. Republican or Democrats do this. What they will do is they will get those of us that have a very clear agenda -- you all in this room for example -- and go off in different tangents that seem to provide some sort of recognition for a problem. It really doesn't. And so, we need to make sure that we don't loose sight of our agenda, and not allow it to be drawn off track by either Congressional leadership, in either party, which is not interested in, by and large, not interested in tackling these tough substantive issues, as well as this administration, and probably the next administration, whether it is Republican or Democrat, which, likewise, is not interested in limiting the privacy, or, in limiting the powers of government and Congress, which frequently are one and the same, and therefore, will not have the same interest as those of use who are concerned about privacy rights, and protection of information.

So, there is only one group that we can rely on. And that is ourselves. We cannot rely on business being supportive of this. This, by and large, cannot rely on the administration, any administration being in support of those privacy rights. Law enforcement, or Congress, by and large. So, we have to make them stand up and take notice.

And, there is no fancy formula. There is no CD disk that you can plug in and gives you magic answers. Hard work. Repetitive work. Bringing these to the attention of Congressional and executive branch officials, to the Internet, to the media, through cards, postcards, e-mails, letters, faxes, phone calls, whatever it takes, personal visits, to make sure that these issues rise to the level of being on the radar screen of Members of Congress not predisposed to pay attention to them, because they don't have any indices and headlines, and so forth, but, as to which they will pay attention, if they recognize that there are sufficient thousands of constituents of theirs, and other citizens around the country, who are concerned the vanishing right to privacy in America and around the world, as exemplified by, but certainly not limited to Project Echelon, which we will be hearing about in great detail today by renowned experts. And, which hopefully, through the work of the ACLU, other groups here today, individuals, and whatever I can lend to that effort, as I have by also calling for hearings, but hopefully, will become headline grabbing stories in the months ahead.

And with that I look forward to listening to the rest of the panel. Thank you very much.


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