Lisa S. Dean is vice president for technology policy of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF), a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. We talked to her recently about FCF's views on threats to privacy in America.
CIO: What's the biggest threat to consumer privacy in the United States?
DEAN: The sale of our information. Some proposed legislation would give consumers opt-in and opt-out choices. If your bank wanted to collect information on your spending habits and sell it to a third party, it would have to get your permission. That's a very good start, but the federal government also collects this information. But that legislation wouldn't clamp down on federal agencies [like the FBI and NSA] that collect personal information and sell it to industry. Our private information is up for grabs.
We need legislation that allows a wider use of encryption.... If we can use strong encryption to protect our communication, that will say a lot for the kind of society we live in. We need to go back to our basic constitutional rights. The Constitution does not give overarching power to the government to spy on our communication or eavesdrop on us.
CIO: How do you respond to critics who see this degree of mistrust as paranoid?
Dean: A few years ago we might have been called paranoid, but not today. The Clinton administration is paying close attention to our criticisms, and a growing number of people understand--especially after the Know Your Customer ordeal with the banking agencies [a 1999 proposal to allow banks to investigate the source of customer funds]--that there really is something behind all of the privacy concern.
CIO: How are Bush and Gore on the issue of privacy?
Dean: I don't think George W. Bush is particularly knowledgeable on the issue of privacy. At least, I haven't heard him say anything regarding privacy that I've found helpful. Al Gore is knowledgeable on the subject, but he's on the wrong side. I think he's probably the most antiprivacy presidential candidate we've ever had. He's "Mr. Passenger-profiling-in-airports," "Mr. National ID."
CIO: How should privacy be protected?
Dean: I'm strongly in favor of self-regulation--if it works. I'm not in favor of the government coming in and regulating business to protect our privacy. First, because that's not government's role; and second, government is a large part of the problem. For government to come in and tell businesses that they can't do what they themselves have been doing would be hypocritical.
Senior Writer Daintry Duffy spies on the realm of privacy and security and wants to know your thoughts and paranoias at firstname.lastname@example.org.