FAS Note: The following statement was issued by the Lieberman for President 2004 campaign. Needless to say, it is not specifically endorsed by FAS and is presented here for informational purposes only.

Joe Lieberman's Plan To Protect Personal Privacy And Break The Bush Wall Of Secrecy

(January 9, 2004)

Safeguarding Personal Information and Making Government Open and Accountable to the Public

> Read The Bush Wall of Secrecy

This age of technology and terrorism presents us with unprecedented challenges as we fight to advance two basic American values: securing sensitive personal information and ensuring the transparency and accountability of our government.

On the one hand, the rise of the information age has led to increasing fears among many Americans that their privacy may be unfairly exploited. The same technology that enables immediate access of medical records, on-the-fly security scanning, instant credit checks, and electronic filing of taxes also makes Americans more vulnerable than ever to identity theft, fraud, and troubling daily invasions into their lives. In fact, a September 2003 Federal Trade Commission survey reported that 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years. In many of these cases, criminals used victims' identities to open new credit card accounts, rent homes or apartments, and even obtain medical care or employment.

And at the same time as vast amounts of personal data are under threat, the federal government--which is supposed to be "of, by, and for the people"--is doing more and more of its own business in the shadows. The Bush Administration's penchant for secrecy, ranging from its concealment of energy task force records and 28 key pages of the Intelligence Committee's report on September 11th to its whitewashing of air quality information at Ground Zero, is legion. That is further eroding the public's confidence in their leadership and making it harder for independent watchdogs to hold our government accountable.

In sum, the Bush Administration has been too passive when it comes to protecting personal information. And it has been too activist when it comes to keeping its operations out of the public eye. The President is failing to safeguard information that ought to stay private while keeping secret information that ought to be public.

Joe Lieberman believes that a technologically advancing world demands a new compact to keep personal information private and shed light on the workings of government. Lieberman recently authored and secured passage of sweeping electronic government legislation that put in place strong new privacy protections even as it provided for expanded access to a variety of government information over the Internet. As President, he will build on that record--ensuring that the personal data of ordinary Americans is not unfairly compromised by the private sector or government, and that our federal government is as open as it can be in an age of terrorism.

What follows is his agenda for guarding personal privacy and breaking the Bush wall of secrecy:


As President, Joe Lieberman will launch an aggressive campaign to stop corporations and government from exploiting Americans' personal information--by bringing privacy law into the 21st Century, holding business and government accountable, and arming consumers with new tools to protect themselves. He will:

Protect Financial Information. Americans' financial data is too often at the mercy of huge corporations, who seek to profit from marketing and exploiting it. Joe Lieberman will require financial institutions to get affirmative consent from consumers before selling or sharing their personally identifiable information with a third party company, and will enable consumer opt-out for the selling or sharing of all personal financial information with affiliated companies.

Safeguard Social Security Numbers. And since Social Security numbers are among the most sensitive--and freely available--pieces of personal information, Joe Lieberman will prohibit the display, sale, or purchase of Social Security numbers without the explicit consent of the individual.

Double Penalties for Identity Theft. Identity theft is a growing crime every bit as serious as the robbery of your personal effects from the drawer of your night table--and it can threaten national security by enabling the creation of false passports or driver's licenses. As President, Joe Lieberman will double penalties for identity theft--and provide the necessary resources to enforce the law. He will make sure that victims of identity theft are not responsible for paying even a penny of fraudulent credit card charges imposed by identity thieves.

Put Teeth in Corporate Privacy Policies. Retailers and other companies now collect and peddle consumers' private information, frequently without their consent. Joe Lieberman will require all companies that sell or share Americans' personal information to post on their websites and in other company documentation, plain-language privacy policies. The privacy policies would have to include what information is collected and how it is used; instructions on how customers can prevent their information from being sold or shared; and access to the information collected about customers so they can correct inaccuracies or delete information. And as President Joe Lieberman will urge the FTC to aggressively pursue companies that violate their own privacy policies.

Help Consumers Correct Credit Reports. Americans now face a maddening bureaucratic maze when trying to correct errors in their credit reports--errors that can stand in the way of getting a mortgage, buying a car, or qualifying for a credit card. Joe Lieberman will ensure that credit bureaus and the companies that furnish them information are held accountable. He will urge the FTC to file suit against those that repeatedly make errors or fail to correct credit reports expeditiously.

Prohibit Misuse of Sensitive Medical Information. Today, as we sit on the cusp of a new medical information age--when millions of Americans will soon have access to their personal DNA sequences, among other things--people are only just beginning to regain some control of their own medical information. Yet the Bush Administration has given industry more, not less, control over medical information. As President, Joe Lieberman will continue to fight, as he has done in the Senate, for legislation to prevent insurers and employers from using genetic information as a factor in determining eligibility for employment or insurance coverage. Joe Lieberman will also give patients back control over the use of their health information for marketing activities, repealing the Bush Administration's vast marketing loophole in federal health privacy regulations. He will ensure that the people, not HMOs, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, or government, own their medical histories.

Restrict Government's Access to Sensitive Data. When a contractor working for the U.S. Army acquired the travel records of JetBlue passengers, it raised deeply disturbing questions about the appropriate limits of government information collection. As President, Joe Lieberman will initiate a systematic review of all collection of personal information by federal agencies to ensure they are minimally intrusive, without compromising government's ability to protect national security and root out crime.

Create a New Federal Privacy Enforcer. To ensure that government agencies themselves respect people's privacy in their use of personal information, Joe Lieberman will appoint a high-level Federal Privacy Advocate in the Office of Management and Budget to oversee the development of clear and enforceable privacy rules within all federal agencies.

Secure Children's Personal Data. Public school districts should be flatly prohibited from selling private information on the children in their care to for-profit companies. As President, Joe Lieberman will toughen enforcement of the law to make sure public school districts do not disclose students' information to anyone seeking to exploit that information for commercial gain.

Combat Emerging Electronic Privacy Threats. New threats to Americans' privacy--such as "snoop software," which tracks a computer user's every move--seem to rear their head every day. To stay on top of these changes and continually recommend new federal rules and enforcement strategies to help citizens protect their privacy, Joe Lieberman will create a high-level Electronic Privacy Task Force within the Justice Department.


Joe Lieberman understands that in an age of terrorism, some things need to be kept secret to protect the American people. But he will never use national security as a rationale to seal from the people information they deserve to see. As President, Joe Lieberman will help rebuild the American people's trust in their government. Specifically, he will:
Give the Public Comprehensive Information on Who Gets Tax Dollars.  The Bush Administration has given billions of dollars to well-connected contractors such as Halliburton, which won their contracts through procedures that were secret and not fully competitive. Joe Lieberman will create a comprehensive digital database, available and searchable on the Internet, to provide information on contracts and grants awarded by the federal government--with exceptions where national security requires. And he will ensure contracts are awarded fairly through transparent bidding procedures and provide the maximum amount of information possible about the winning contractors.

Open the Doors of the Executive Branch.  Time and time again, the Bush Administration has withheld or altered information about the environment, public health, and other vital matters. Joe Lieberman will ensure that federal agencies provide the public as much information as they can, in user-friendly formats.  Using as a starting point the e-Government Act of 2002, which Lieberman authored, he will direct agencies to post within one click of their Internet home pages a comprehensive list describing what information is available to the public, what open meetings are scheduled, and what regulatory proceedings are ongoing.  In addition, agency proceedings and town hall-style meetings will be webcast and archived on the Internet, making exceptions where necessary to protect personal privacy and national security.

Send Citizens Instant Regulatory Updates in Plain Language. Trying to keep track of government regulations that affect your life can keep even the most interested and engaged American at arms' length from her government. Building on the e-Government act he authored, Joe Lieberman will give the American people the opportunity to sign up for instant updates whenever action is taken on a regulation in an area of concern. Citizens will be able to request and receive free, immediate notice by e-mail regarding regulatory changes in an area of interest.

Sharpen Tools to Win the War on Terrorism Without Compromising Security.  John Ashcroft's Justice Department has kept from the Congress and the public critical details regarding its use of the Patriot Act and other laws used to fight terrorism--fueling suspicions and compromising our civil liberties. As President, Joe Lieberman will lead a systematic review of the new Patriot powers to determine their impact on civil liberties before supporting their extension. And going forward, he will direct the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to bring much more openness to the fight against terrorism, proactively disclosing as much information as possible, consistent with national security, about how they are using the Patriot Act and about those arrested and detained in the war on terrorism.

Grade Agencies on Fighting Secrecy.  In the Bush Administration, secrecy sometimes seems to be a form of loyalty. Joe Lieberman will require and reward openness--by mandating that all agency heads establish and implement an openness plan and then requiring agency officials to disseminate the most information possible, consistent with national security. The plans will be audited and scored in annual Open Government Report Cards.

Reverse Bush Executive Order on Presidential Records.  In yet another display of his arrogant penchant for secrecy, President Bush issued an Executive Order to block the release of non-classified records from past Presidential administrations, including his father's. The release of records was required by the Presidential Records Act, and the Bush Executive Order was a serious intrusion into the public's right to know. As President, Joe Lieberman will reverse the Bush Executive Order, ensuring access to non-classified records and promoting the public's right to study the workings of our government.

Mandate Disclosure of Industry-Funded Research. The public has a right to know when scientific research used to inform public policy is funded by industry. It is no coincidence that the Bush Administration has close ties with corporate interests and a terrible record on the environment and public health. Joe Lieberman will require that scientists whose studies are being used to shape public policy disclose who funds their work.

Commit to No More Secret Task Forces. Dick Cheney set a new benchmark for unwarranted government secrecy when he refused to even disclose the names of the energy companies his energy taskforce met with in shaping critical national policy. As President, Joe Lieberman will have no more secret task forces.

Reverse Ashcroft Order Restricting the Release of Information.  The best way to promote transparent government is to proactively disseminate information widely. But laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provide an important safety net, allowing the public to seek the release of particular records that have not yet been disclosed.  Attorney General Ashcroft, in a reversal of President Clinton's policies, ordered agencies to follow the most restrictive possible interpretation when answering FOIA requests for documents. As President, Joe Lieberman will rescind the Ashcroft policy on FOIA, and will ensure that agencies do a better job complying with our Freedom of Information laws.

Ensure Permanent Public Access to Key Government Information.  Technology has given us the means to access unprecedented amounts of information--but also the means to easily erase history. The Bush Administration has purged from the Internet, and from circulation, statements and information that had proved politically embarrassing--like removing from the U.S. Agency for International Development Web site remarks that had understated the cost of Iraqi reconstruction. Joe Lieberman will ensure that key government information that has been posted on the Internet will remain available to the public.

> Read The Bush Wall of Secrecy

Source: Joe Lieberman for President 2004