June 7, 2001

Defending the Right to Privacy in the Public and Private Sector—Different Debate for Privacy Advocates

HSLDA recently reviewed an excellent report from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) analyzing key differences between privacy in the public and private sectors.

"A person's right to privacy should receive a higher protection than government's right to information," said Samuel Redfern, Manager of HSLDA's Congressional Action Program. "This report highlights the different protections in the private and public arena."

The report summarizes many key points in the privacy debate. Here is a brief excerpt:

"The difference between privacy in the public and private sector is clear. In the public sector, the citizen has no choice but to provide the federal government with legally required information in the form of tax returns, a Social Security number, student loan information and other data to the federal government. It is precisely because of this authority that the government has the highest legal and moral obligation to ensure that this information is protected, especially as citizens have little recourse to compensation if it is used incorrectly.

In the private sector and on the Internet, however, the citizen has numerous options to withhold information---the ability to disable cookies, use P3P technology built into browsers, and examine a site's privacy policy and move on if the provisions are unsatisfactory, just as one would walk out of a store with poor service or quality in the offline world. Additionally, if users feel the site is not complying with its posted privacy policy, just as they do when a business promises and fails to keep personal information private, while causing harm, they have recourse to legal action. Furthermore, since April 2000, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has had the right to bring enforcement actions and impose civil penalties for violations of privacy law.

The key to privacy is choice in providing information---it can be controlled in the private sector, but in the government it's compelled by law."

HSLDA believes that 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 its citizens. Informational privacy is an important right. Home school families recognize the connection between a strong right to privacy and the continued freedom to direct the education of their children. HSLDA is committed to protecting the privacy interests of our members.

To read the rest of the CAGW report, visit the following link: