ISSUE ANALYSIS

a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
March 2001

HSLDA's National Privacy Report

Our View: A person's right to privacy should always receive a higher protection than a government's right to information, unless the government has a compelling interest in collecting that information.

A transfer of information about a private citizen to the government cannot be viewed as harmless. Once a private citizen gives personal information to a government official, the citizen no longer has any control over where that information is stored, or the purposes to which it will be put. The more information a government collects on its citizens, the greater its ability to control the citizens. Informational privacy is an important right. Home school families are concerned about family privacy in choosing to direct the education of their children. HSLDA is committed to protecting the privacy interests of our members.

How Will HSLDA Defend Family Privacy?

HSLDA opposes citizen-tracking proposals through government regulation and policy. This includes opposing:

  • Efforts to expand the use of social security numbers for identification

  • Efforts that expand access by private companies to government databases

  • Efforts to monitor the private financial activities of citizens through their banks and financial institutions like "Know-Your-Customer Rules"

  • Efforts to monitor and track the immunization records of families through vaccine registries, and

  • Efforts to track citizenship through the creation of any national identification card

HSLDA proactively defends family and religious freedom as well. We are working with Congress to pass the Children's Alternative Tax ID Act.

Privacy in the 107th Congress

Privacy is an important issue to Congress. Lawmakers have already introduced at least 18 privacy bills in the 107th Congress, and the Congressional Privacy Caucus, which includes House and Senate members of both parties, is planning March hearings on one subject of immediate concern-"Web bugs," a variety of tracking software that advertisers can use to monitor consumers' Internet habits.

Congressmen Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), and James Moran (D-VA) have reintroduced a bill (H.R.583) to establish a bipartisan commission to study and make policy recommendations on a wide range of privacy issues. In the last Congress, supporters could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure without debate.

It is thought that the privacy issue is most intense in the arena of health care. New Department of Health and Human Services rules to safeguard medical records upset insurers and health providers so much that they persuaded the Bush administration to delay implementation.

Key Areas of Privacy Legislation that HSLDA is Monitoring.

The 107th Congress is expected to consider privacy measures in 2001 that would cover several areas, including Internet tracking technology, wireless phone ads, and the sharing of personal medical records. Some lawmakers, for example, want to curb the use of software that can follow a PC user's Web-surfing habits and trace his e-mail, while others are focusing on protecting consumers' Social Security numbers. Here are the major privacy issues facing Congress and some of the bills that have been offered to address them:

Financial Privacy

HSLDA opposed the 1999 FDIC Know Your Customer rule. Financial privacy is beginning to consume lawmaker's attention, driven by concerns about the exchange of sensitive personal information among banks, insurers, brokerages, and other institutions.

Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), introduced S. 30 legislation that would require financial institutions to obtain consumers' consent before they shared personal information with affiliates. This would prevent banks from automatically passing information about customers to subsidiaries that sell securities or insurance.

The practice was made easier by the 1999 financial services overhaul, which allowed banks to establish affiliates that sell a wide variety of products.

Senator Richard Shelby, (R-AL) wants to expand protections in the 1999 law to prevent banks from selling customers' Social Security numbers.

Online Information

Lawmakers are considering a variety of proposals dealing with how web sites are trying to collect personal information. Senator John McCain, (R-AZ), and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) have proposed legislation (H.R. 237) that would require site operators to post their privacy guidelines and give consumers a chance to opt out of sharing information. They also want to establish a federal baseline for privacy protection that could pre-empt stronger state laws. Senator John Edwards (D-NC), introduced (S.197) that would place controls on the use of "Web bugs" and other tracking technology that can give companies detailed information about a person's Internet use.

Identity Theft

Several bills would restrict business use of Social Security numbers. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) has introduced a bill (HR 91) to make it harder for Internet scammers to commit identity theft by stealing Social Security numbers. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) has introduced a measure (S.30) that would restrict how banks trade customers' personal information with affiliated companies.

Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) has proposed a bill (HR220) that would prevent Social Security numbers from being used for anything other than Social Security or tax purposes: The Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act (HR 220). This bill prohibits the use of the Social Security number for purposes not related to Social Security, as well as forbidding the creation of any other national ID card or number.

The Social Security number is already a de facto national ID number. Currently there are more than 40 non-social security related uses of the Social Security number authorized by federal law. Furthermore, Congress has mandated that states require citizens to present a Social Security number to get a drivers license by 2000. Citizens in many states must present a Social Security number to get a drivers, marriage, or even a fishing license.

Student Web Surfing

Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and several other lawmakers have proposed a measure (S 290) that would require school districts to notify parents when classroom computers use technology that could collect data on children for commercial purposes. That includes Internet content filters, which are utilized by many schools to block objectionable material but can also track users' surfing habits.

Medical Records

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, heeding the concerns of GOP lawmakers and health care interest groups, will re-open the rules making process for medical privacy regulations issued in December by the Clinton Administration. The health care industry complained that the rules, as written, could allow medical providers to withhold treatment if patients do not consent to share their medical information.

What is Good Privacy Policy?

Behind the incredible benefits and power of the Internet and the horror stories about violations of privacy is a truth: We have to surrender some privacy to capture the benefits of information technology. And we have to sacrifice some of the efficiency that electronic sharing of information might produce in order to protect our privacy.

In crafting rules for the health-care industry, courts, banks, brokers, and insurers, the government attempts to balance conflicting demands for privacy and productivity. In each instance, it has produced an exceedingly complex compromise that is assaulted as "too loose" by privacy advocates and "too onerous" by the industry that must comply with the rules. Congress couldn't find a compromise to protect medical records so it tossed the task to the Department of Health and Human Services. The complexity of the result—the rules fill 32 pages of small type-reflects the complexity of the choices. HHS received 52,000 comments on its privacy rules.

So we believe that a good rule for lawmakers to consider is: A person's right to privacy should always receive a higher protection than a government's right to information, unless the government has a compelling interest in collecting that information.

States should be trusted to develop privacy standards. The big question asked in privacy circles is, who has the right to know? HSLDA stands for family privacy.

Recent Privacy Concern with the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement survey

Several HSLDA members have been contacted by the U.S. Department of Education, seeking information about educational experiences of children and adults. The study is the National Household Education Survey (NHES) and is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics of the United States Department of Education. They are asking for information related to:

  • Preschool programs and learning activities at home for young children;

  • Activities and programs that school-age children may participate in after school, and

  • Types of educational activities, including training at work, in which adults may take part in.

    HSLDA opposes any method to track or register home schooling by the Federal government. We are currently researching this issue.

    HSLDA Privacy Resources:


    For further information about this issue, please contact Samuel Redfern at the National Center for Home Education, 540.338.7600, 540.338.8606 (fax), or NationalCenter@hslda.org.