Magazine article Insight on the News

Antiprivacy Plot Is Well-Kept Secret

Magazine article Insight on the News

Antiprivacy Plot Is Well-Kept Secret

Article excerpt

Just when everyone thought the Clinton administration had learned its lesson from trying to keep secret the doings of Hillary Rodham Clinton's White House health-care advisory committee, another advisory committee, which is considering the "unique health identifier" for the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, has gone on record claiming an alleged right to keep its planning documents secret.

Back in February, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth fined the White House $285,000 for false and misleading statements made to the court by White House senior adviser Ira Magaziner in an effort to exempt Hillary Clinton's group from the sunshine-in-government provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA. The Magaziner case was brought by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, or AAPS. Now AAPS has written to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala claiming that the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics, or NCVHS, is not in compliance with FACA either. NCVHS has been charged with the task of drawing up guidelines for the universal medical card.

Jane Orient, a physician and executive director of AAPS, tells Insight: "I think the situation is getting very dangerous. The unique health identifier is definitely designed to do cradle-to-grave surveillance. It would give info on where a citizen is situated, where he works, what social factors are in his history, what financial factors. Whenever the bureaucrats want to hide something, you always wonder what they are trying to hide. Are they just hiding the special interests hoping to make a ton of money by imposing federal regulations on us? Or is it worse?"

The unique health identifier scheme would require that every man, woman and child in the United States be issued a plastic card with a microchip linking each to a data bank containing his or her complete health history. The requirement, a key part of Hillary Clinton's failed plan, was slipped into the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum bill (see Symposium, p. 24).

But it has horrified liberals and conservatives alike, with fears that privacy ultimately would be breached no matter what precautions were installed; The outcry forced the administration to put the project on hold -- for the time being.

Nevertheless, NCVHS is very concerned with its own privacy. In a full committee meeting last September the members took up a document titled "Ground Rules for Dealing With the Media and Other External Organizations" a draft copy of which has been obtained by Insight. …

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