Two U.S. senators introduced sweeping privacy legislation today that they promise will "establish a framework to protect the personal information of all Americans."
There is, however, one feature of the bill (PDF) sponsored by senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that has gone relatively unnoticed: it doesn't apply to data mining, surveillance, or any other forms of activities that governments use to collect and collate Americans' personal information.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., McCain said the privacy bill of rights will protect the "fundamental right of American citizens, that is the right to privacy." And the first sentence of the legislation proclaims that "personal privacy is worthy of protection through appropriate legislation."
But the measure applies only to companies and some nonprofit groups, not to the federal, state, and local police agencies that have adopted high-tech surveillance technologies including cell phone tracking, GPS bugs, and requests to Internet companies for users' personal information--in many cases without obtaining a search warrant from a judge.
"What's a bill of rights if it doesn't provide rights against the government?" asks Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute.
It also doesn't apply to government agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the Census Bureau, and the IRS, which collect vast amounts of data on American citizens.
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