Monday, January 08, 2007

Privacy Group Cites "Issues to Watch" in 2007

Congressional oversight of privacy issues, identity theft, a national identity system, collection of personal information about children, and the effect of more effective surveillance cameras are among the privacy issues to watch in 2007, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research group in Washington, D.C.

With the Democrats taking over Congress, privacy issues are likely to get renewed attention in the legislative arena, according to EPIC. Meanwhile, courts will wrestle with issues such as whether bloggers have responsibility for the publication of private information.

Following are some of EPIC’s “issues to watch” in the New Year:

Privacy Oversight and the New Congress. The new Democratic Congress can be expected to hold hearings on privacy rights of Americans, funds spent on surveillance technology, and “flagrant abuse of law.”

REAL ID Not So Real?. EPIC expects to see an effort to repeal the 2005 “Real ID” law, which by 2008 will “turn the state driver’s license into a quasi-National ID card.” The statute was enacted as an anti-terrorism measure, but “Homeland Security has been slow to embrace the law,” according to EPIC. In light of an estimated cost of more than $11 billion, the “U.S. experiment with a national identity system” may be short-lived.

Renewed Interest in Medical Records Privacy. After failing to pass controversial Health IT legislation that “would have exposed Americans’ most sensitive medical records on an electronic network” in the last session, Congress is expected to craft new legislation on the subject.

EU-US Privacy Showdown. In 2006, disputes arose over the transfer of European financial and travel records to the U.S. government. A temporary agreement on the collection of passenger data was hammered out in the European Parliament. EPIC predicts that the U.S. will face more battles regarding the use of European data.

“No swipe” Credit Cards.. Credit cards that contain RFID microchips (a.k.a., “spychips”) can be read without an individual’s knowledge or consent. A member of the Senate Banking Committee has denounced RFID “no swipe” credit cards, stating that contracts for the cards should have warning boxes, disclosing “the known weaknesses of the technology,” such as the risk of identity theft. EPIC looks for Congressional action in this area.

Cell phone Tracking and “SPIM.” Cell phones pose two new privacy concerns: (1) new technology and procedures that would allow police to track the location of cell phone users without a warrant and (2) the placing of banner ads on cell phone displays and “SPIM,” advertisements placed in instant messaging.

Databanks of Children. Government databases track everything from children’s drug dosages to their grade in math. EPIC suggests that the law: (1) ensures that children know what information the schools have and (2) holds schools liable for misuse of the information they collect.

Sex blogging. When Congressional staff assistant Jessica Cutler wrote about her sexual exploits with Washington insiders on her “Washingtonienne” blog, she launched a new era in privacy law, according to EPIC. “Are bloggers responsible for the private facts of others they put online? Is it political speech? Is it a diary?” One federal court will get to answer these questions this year.

Smarter Cameras, More Surveillance. Two technology trends may converge this year, as “the ability to process digital images is gradually incorporated in cameras designed for surveillance.” Cameras in public spaces might be able to scan crowds and match images against databases of facial images, raising new privacy concerns, according to EPIC.

The “Issues to Watch in 2007” were published, together with the “2006 Privacy Year in Review,” in the January 4, 2007 issue of EPIC Alert electronic newsletter.

EPIC was established in 1994 “to focus public attention on emerging privacy issues such as the Clipper Chip, the Digital Telephony proposal, national ID cards, medical record privacy, and the collection and sale of personal information.”

No comments: