Right, Left Join Privacy Campaign; Requires Studies of Laws' effects.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt


Conservatives and liberals joined forces yesterday to promote a bill that would require federal agencies to assess the effect of new regulations on individuals' privacy rights.

Conservative Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, and liberal Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York were flanked by members of the National Rifle Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Eagle Forum as they called for congressional action.

"From medical records to surveillance cameras, and from government snooping on the Internet to recent calls for a national ID, we are seeing firsthand, each day, the importance of guarding our right to privacy," Mr. Barr said. "All Americans deserve to know how new rules or regulations passed by the government will affect their right to privacy."

The legislation would require federal agencies to start a "privacy impact statement" upon proposing any new rule or regulation. After completion of a public comment period, the agency would be required to issue a final assessment detailing what steps it has taken to "minimize the impact on privacy," Mr. Barr said.

Similar legislation was introduced in the 106th Congress but died in the House without committee action. Mr. Barr said he hoped to hold a hearing on the new bill in the Judiciary Committee within a week.

Lawmakers said the new bill contains clearer definitions of the requirements to be placed upon federal agencies in conducting the privacy assessments. They also said congressional action last year to fight terrorism domestically could give the bill momentum.

Acting on the request of the White House, Congress quickly approved legislation last fall that gave the FBI and other federal agencies broad new investigative powers, including new wiretap authority and greater leeway to conduct searches and seizures.

"In the wake of the events of September 11, Congress acted promptly to provide law enforcement with the tools they needed to more effectively fight terrorism," said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican. "Because some of these tools could have an adverse impact on privacy rights, it's essential that federal agencies provide thoughtful consideration from a privacy perspective and focus on the privacy rights of our citizens."

Mr. Nadler said the privacy protections are important "even in this time of enhanced fears of terrorist attacks. …