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Privacy Legislation Introduced, Regs Put On Hold.

A bill designed to evaluate the current efforts by industries to protect the privacy of the public has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. Rep. Asa Hutchinson (RArk.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) are the architects of the Privacy Commission Act (H.R. 4049), a bill designed to review present laws and public opinion concerning the comprehensive protection of personal information.

The bill comes as President George W. Bush put a hold on privacy regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hutchinson explained in a prepared statement. "More than ever, the growing privacy debate in our nation demands thoughtful congressional action The Hutchinson-Moran Privacy Commission takes a responsible approach to commercial and governmental privacy policy, whether it concerns medical records, financial statements, the gathering of information on the Internet, or the collection and use of personal details by the government."

Should the bill pass, the 18-month bipartisan commission's agenda would contain a six-point directive. Points of interest include examining the current laws and regulations, observing practices implemented by employers that protect the financial and medical information of employees and exploring solutions for the violations of personal privacy. Focus on the difficulties of privacy on the Internet will also be of importance.

The legislation would receive an authorization of $5 million to complete its work. Plans include hitting the road and holding of 10 field hearings across the country. The hearings are designed to provide a forum used to better gauge public opinion regarding privacy issues.

"There are so many laws being proposed at the state and federal levels and the laws are broad," said Christian Brill, Hutchinson's press secretary. "With information systems like the Internet information is so interconnected. This issue is so personal that the constituents were worried about being compromised."

When asked about the possible evaluation of programs such as the Direct Marketing Association's Privacy Promise, which focuses on opt-out opportunities and suppression lists, Brill said, "Programs that have been working will certainly be given the proper attention. It's about what should be done, but also, it's looking into expanding on what's being done successfully."

Hutchinson and Moran have identified a number of reasons why they believe that their commission is needed. The recent shift from an industry-focused economy to an information-focused economy and the deficient methods used to protect medical records calls for such an encompassing re-evaluation the congressmen believe.

If the bill passes, the commission would be selected within 30 days of it being signed into law. The process of hiring an executive director and consultants to work with the members of the commission would closely follow.

And with regard to the delayed Health and Human Services regulations, R. Glen Smiley, corporate vice president for philanthropy at the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System and immediate past chair of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, said AHP is comfortable with its position under the HHS regulations as they are currently written. "We're in favor of the privacy of medical records," he said. "We have access to only the demographic information, which is all we really need."

Smiley said AHP is aware there are marketers and others who would like to gain the demographic access its members enjoy, and the organization has some concerns about the leverage such marketers may try to gain.

"We're not going to sit back and assume that everything's fine," Smiley said. "If there's a feeling we need to make a comment during the comment period to reaffirm our feelings about this, we'll do that. But that decision hasn't been made yet."

Craig Causer; Matthew Sinclair also contributed to this article.
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Article Details
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Author:Sinclair, Matthew
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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