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Protection of Privacy Rights No. 238A

Adopted 1998
Reaffirmed 1999
Amended 2001
Amended 2003
Reaffirmed 2004
Amended 2005
Reaffirmed 2006
Reaffirmed 2007

The personal privacy of every American today is threatened as never before. Private corporations are accumulating detailed information about every one of us. The emerging electronic marketplace has accelerated the assault on privacy and is grossly under-regulated. Information is gathered, sold, and exchanged without the informed consent of its subjects and could be used for purposes that run the gamut from marketing to political blackmail. Most seriously, the ever-increasing risk of database theft threatens the well-being and security of all Americans.

ADA believes the Executive Branch and the Congress must take broad action to control the collection and abuse of personal information. Citizens must have the ability to protect themselves against misuse of information. They must be informed in advance of the potential uses of information they provide about themselves. They must have remedies for information abuse and misuse.

Private corporations are gathering personal information including medical records, bank account data, credit history, and buying preferences. Health and life insurers pool information about individual consumers. Corporations with "self insurance" health programs have access to employee medical data, opening the door to unmonitored employment discrimination, based on medical concerns - even though prohibited by law.

Credit card data can provide a detailed picture of the preferences, day-to-day movements and buying habits of card users. This data is often sold and shared without the knowledge of the credit card holder. In some cases, criminals have accessed the data and stolen the identity of subscribers.

Internet users are particularly open to invasion of privacy. The web sites they access search for files to determine what other sites have been visited, and frequently require personal information as a condition of access. Children who use the net are special targets. The information gathered may be stored in insecure and widely accessible databases. If the information is erroneous or out of date, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to correct. Victims of identity theft and credit reporting errors spend years and thousands of dollars fighting for corrections.

Many national databases are run by for-profit businesses intent upon increasing their income by selling and distributing the information. This is done without the consent of the person involved.

To address these issues, ADA proposes the following actions:

  1. A federal private right of action should be created to allow suits against identity thieves.
  2. Social Security numbers should not be used as identification numbers for commercial purposes.
  3. Social Security numbers should not be printed on driver's licenses, employee ID cards, medical insurance cards or any other materials routinely used as identification.
  4. A federal private right of action should be created against any firm which negligently permits the theft of personal data or which shares personal information improperly. These private rights of action should allow for triple damages and attorney's fees.
  5. All companies that gather information for commercial purposes should be required to disclose the uses to which the data will be put. Any use of data outside announced purposes should be subject to severe penalties.
  6. A privacy commission with regulatory authority should be created. The Commission should be given the power to regulate the uses and the security of information gathered on the Internet by credit card companies and insurers. It should report threats to privacy regularly to Congress and the American people.
  7. The United States should press for an international convention on the protection of privacy. International agreement is now essential to protect Internet abuse and to control the invasion of databases by unauthorized users.
  8. The United States should recognize the right of all private citizens to encrypt their messages and should end its efforts to control the use of encryption.
  9. We oppose provisions of the Patriot Act which permit government collection of data regarding library usage and credit card usage without appropriate independent judicial authorization and oversight of the process.


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No. 238A
Political and Governmental Commission