"THE FUTURE OF PRIVACY
July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM
(Editor's Note: The following is the prepared text of a speech delivered Thursday by Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes at the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Technology Policy, Washington, D.C.)
Thank you, Lisa (Dean), for that very kind introduction. You've been a great leader in the effort to identify government threats to our privacy and in building a broad national coalition to protect our privacy and freedoms and you deserve great credit.
And thank you, (Free Congress Foundation President) Paul (Weyrich) for your friendship, your support, and for your very gracious invitation. Each of us in this room owes you a great debt of honor. You have helped create, shape and build the institutions of modern conservatism. You have engaged in the noble and enduring effort to rebuild the moral basis of our free society. You have done justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with our God. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Today, I'd like to address the "The Future of Privacy" - the brazen and dangerous assault on the privacy and personal freedoms of the American people by the greedy hand of government. I'd also like to discuss what the Forbes Administration will do to restore the privacy of the American people. It's a subject getting no attention on the campaign trail. Yet it's a subject we dare not ignore, particularly at the dawn of a new century, and a new, Information Age economy. Too much is at stake.
ASSAULT ON AMERICANS' MEDICAL PRIVACY
In May of 1998, Vice President Al Gore - you may have heard of him...he invented the Internet - he gave a commencement address at New York University.
He said - and I quote - "Privacy is a basic American value, in the Information Age, and in every age, and it must be protected. You should have the right to choose whether your personal information is disclosed; you should have the right to know how, when, and how much of that information is being used; and you should have the right to see it yourself, to know if it's accurate."
"Today," he continued, "there is greater protection for your video rental receipts than for your most intimate medical information."
He went on to call on Congress to - quote - "enact new legislation that will restrict how your medical records can be used, and make sure you are fully informed, and fully consulted, about their use." Unquote.
Sounds fine so far. But then the Vice President said - quote - "the Clinton-Gore Administration wants to work with Congress to pass [medical privacy] legislation this year" and is "doing everything possible to protect your personal information, and to make it a permanent priority across the government." Unquote.
And that's where the trouble began, because, my friends, not a single part of that statement by the Vice President has a single shred of truth in it.
The truth is that as we gather here today, the Clinton-Gore Administration is engaged in the greatest assault on the medical privacy of the American people in the history of this country. In the name of protecting our medical privacy, this Administration is actually trying to strip it away.
George Orwell once wrote, "Political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful...and murder respectable...and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." The year was 1950...43 years before Bill Clinton and Al Gore took office. How prophetic.
Today, the Clinton-Gore Department of Health and Human Services is developing a battery of regulations that would legalize access to your medical records without your consent. They are in the initial stages of creating a massive, centralized national health care database, and a national health care ID system that would assign a "unique health identifier" to every man, woman and child in the United States.
This is a legacy of the Clinton-Gore socialized medicine plan from 1993 - when President Clinton proposed his infamous "Health Security Card." This new system would electronically tag, track and monitor your personal medical information and make it available - without your individual, personal consent and authorization - to other government agencies, public health officials, researchers, law enforcement officials, courts, lawyers and even employers.
At the same time, the federal Health Care Financing Administration - the regulatory agency that runs Medicare - is creating a separate federal database called OASIS. It's requiring nearly 10,000 home health care agencies nationwide to transmit sensitive personal medical information on its patients into this government-run database - all without the patients' knowledge and consent.
Such information would include a person's medical history, personal characteristics, race, ethnicity, and living conditions, as well as financial and behavioral characteristics - including depression, suicidal tendencies, use of profanity and use of "sexual references."
In fact, the questionnaire is so long that if you put all the pages of questions end to end, the thing is over 30 feet long.
Now, the Administration says it wants to do all this so it can ostensibly accomplish a number of goals: find ways to cut health care costs, monitor immunization efforts, track AIDS and cancer patients, standardize medical records, simplify paperwork procedures, conduct medical research and the like.
But the truth is that once again they are trying to create a Soviet-style health care system. And wherever socialized medicine exists, medical privacy is the first casualty. After all, in order for the government to provide everyone with medical care, it first has to have access to all your medical records.
But let's be blunt about it: Do you trust Bill Clinton and Al Gore to know everything there is to know about your medical history? Do you trust the same Administration that was found in possession of more than 900 FBI files on their political opponents to create a massive, centralized medical database that will contain every intimate detail of your medical history, available to thousands of bureaucrats, political appointees and others at the touch of a button?
How could we ever be sure such sensitive medical information wouldn't be hacked into or accidentally posted on the Internet to be viewed by anybody at all?
Back in February, thousands of patients in the University of Michigan health system suddenly discovered that for two full months all their personal and medical information had been posted on the Internet without them knowing about it or giving their consent.
University officials immediately took the information off the Web and said no harm had been done. But according to the Detroit News, anyone surfing the web would have discovered a - quote - "wealth of information: enough to steal a person's identity or sell medical information to companies who use it to decide promotions or whether loans are made." Unquote.
Which raises a whole other issue: How could we ever be sure our sensitive personal medical information in a government-run database wouldn't be stolen, leaked, or sold to HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, direct marketing companies and others?
One major drug store chain is already involved in a lawsuit over its practices of selling their pharmacy records to direct marketers who take that information and try to sell their products to patients. Just imagine what could happen with a treasure trove of medical information obtained by the government under the force of law.
The medical privacy of the American people is sacred. The doctor-patient relationship is sacred and protected by centuries of legal and cultural tradition. We trust our doctors with our most sensitive, private, personal information. But we never have - and we never should - trust big government. And for good reason.
Do we really want our doctor to say to us one day, "If you tell me that you're struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, I'm going to have to report you to the feds. If you tell me you've ever been suicidal, I'm going to have to report you to Washington. If you tell me anything about your sexual history or troubles, I'm going to have to report you to the Clinton-Gore Administration"? Of course not.
Government has no need to know our medical history, and it has no right to know.
My friends, make no mistake: this isn't about progress; it's about power - raw government power. It's a dagger pointed at the very heart of our privacy and personal freedom and we must stop this power grab before it goes too far.
Cicero once said, "There are two kinds of injustice: the first in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can."
This is why I'm running for President. Because here - as with so many other issues - I see injustice being done, and I believe the American people must be protected.
I see an Administration engaged in a continuous pattern of lies, deception and deceit. I see an Administration willing to say one thing in public and do the exact opposite under the cover of darkness. I see an Administration that stands behind a poll-driven facade of feel-good phrases and political sleight-of-hand, while Bill Clinton and Al Gore systematically attack the moral basis of our free society. And this must not stand.
So today, I call upon Congress to stop the Clinton-Gore Administration from developing this national medical database, and to repeal the legislation that set this process in motion.
I call upon Congress to stop this Administration from creating "unique health identifiers" to track the medical history of every man, woman and child in America.
And I call for immediate public hearings into the unconscionable efforts of the Clinton-Gore Administration to violate the medical privacy of the American people.
This is an Administration that can't even protect the privacy of our own top secret nuclear labs. We dare not allow them to violate the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship.
THE EPIDEMIC OF LOST PRIVACY
All of this, however, it is a mere symptom of a larger disease. Whether we realize it or not, we are experiencing a sweeping epidemic of lost privacy.
Did you know that private companies will track down and then sell your unlisted phone number to a client for just $49...your Social Security number goes for $45....your driving record goes for just $35....your cell phone number for $84....and companies can now track down the stocks, bonds and securities you own and sell this information to your friends, neighbors, clients, enemies - you name it - for just $209.
What makes it possible? The explosion of new, Information Age technology. Technology is making our lives simpler and easier and more productive in so many ways.
But it's also creating what some have dubbed the "Transparent Society." Technology is making it increasingly easy for government and private companies to track down and monitor every detail of our personal and financial lives - what we buy, what we eat, how often we use an ATM, where we live, the names of our children. Sure, in many ways this technology makes it easier to do good - for law enforcement to track down terrorists and criminals, for example, or for us to track down long lost friends and family members. But it also makes it easier for stalkers, scam artists, child abusers and kidnappers to do evil.
So, as a free people, we must be vigilant. We don't want to live in a society where every innocent American is effectively monitored by a high-tech "ankle bracelet" like a criminal, watching every move we make. We must think wisely about how to protect our privacy in this high-tech era, how to balance our right to privacy with our passion for free enterprise, as well as with our government's need to protect us and enforce the law.
Serious privacy issues have arisen in the private sector, from how marketers accumulate and disseminate information about interests, tastes and hobbies to how far private detective agencies and Internet search companies should be allowed to go towards developing a dossier on fellow citizens. And they deserve serious attention.
That said, let us be clear: the biggest and most serious threat to our privacy comes from a massive federal government seeking information it does not need, nor a constitutional right to have.
We are accustomed to enjoying the liberty of going about our daily lives without telling government what we are doing. The idea of having our own government monitor our life and activities is anathema to most Americans.
Unfortunately, those in power who seek control over how we live our lives and how we spend our money, are using terrorists, criminals, illegal aliens, welfare cheats, deadbeat dads and students as excuses to impose oppressive government surveillance over our private lives. It is a typical tactic of those attempting to preserve their power to target law-abiding citizens rather than just the law-violators.
Modern technology has made it possible to build a file on every American, and to record and track their daily lives. Computers can now collect and store immense databases, with detailed records about individual Americans' health status and treatment, job status and applications, automobiles and driving, financial transactions, credit, banking, school and college performance, and travels within and without the country.
In George Orwell's novel 1984, an omnipresent Big Brother watched every citizen at home and work from a giant television screen. Databases can now accomplish the same surveillance with a much higher level of efficiency than Orwell ever imagined.
Some of these databases are under the direct control of the federal government, from the Social Security Administration to the Department of Education. These databases grant enormous power to whoever controls them. In government hands, they are the power to control our very lives, our health care, our access to a job, our financial transactions, and our entry to school and college.
THE IRS VERSUS PRIVACY
Should we be paranoid, looking over our shoulders for those proverbial black helicopters? Of course not. But should we be concerned about government overreaching and taking our liberty and privacy bit by bit. Absolutely.
Just think about what the IRS knows about you. They have massive computer databases with reams and reams of personal financial information about you and your family. Yet they have created a culture of corruption and mistrust unlike any other agency of government.
In 1995, for example, more than 500 IRS agents were caught illegally snooping through the tax records of thousands of Americans - friends, enemies, neighbors, celebrities. When the news came to light, people were outraged. And rightly so. So the IRS promised to install new and better privacy protections.
Did it work? Hardly. In 1997, the IRS discovered that hundreds of employees had rifled through the tax records of more than 800 people. So what happened? Not much. The Clinton-Gore IRS fired only 23 IRS staffers ....349 others were "disciplined" (whatever that means)....and 472 others were required to get "counseling."
Counseling? IRS agents need to get counseling to learn that it's not only illegal but unethical and immoral to violate a person's privacy and read their most personal and confidential tax and financial records? It's an outrage. But that's what passes for "tax reform" in Washington these days.
You know we can't just tinker with this corruptingly complex tax code monster. We can't trim it around the edges. The only thing we can do is kill it, drive a stake through its heart, bury it and hope it never rises again to terrorize the American people!
Then we can end the IRS as we know it. Then we can start the new century without 100,000 IRS agents and staff - an IRS with more manpower than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Then we can create an honest, simple new tax code and a new culture of tax collection that respects - and protects - the privacy and dignity of us all. That's the promise of a Forbes Administration.
OTHER THREATS TO PRIVACY
Of course, it's not just the IRS. There are so many other areas where Washington is trying to take away our privacy and freedom. Let me mention just a few others today.
Consider the Census process, for example. It's become such a natural part of our lives that we hardly even question it. But where in the Constitution do we read about every American being required by law to fill out page after page of personal information about themselves, their homes, their finances and so forth. What business is it of government to know all this, or require people to disclose it? It's none of their business. It's another violation of our privacy and it's time for someone to say so.
The Constitution says every ten years the federal government needs to "enumerate" - count one by one - every man, woman and child in this country. That's it. And in a Forbes Administration, that's all the information we're going to collect. Let the private sector conduct their own polls and marketing surveys. Government should get out of this business immediately.
Or consider all the talk in Washington in recent years about creating national ID cards complete with individual photographs, fingerprints, and even retina scans. Consider all the talk of creating a massive government-run database identifying and tracking every legal worker in the country. Anyone who's in the system and has a card could work in the United States. Anyone who isn't, couldn't.
It's ridiculous. Of course we need to protect our borders and deport those who enter this country illegally. But we don't throw out the Constitution and create a Soviet-style police state in the process.
What if someone makes a mistake and types in your name wrong? Or accidentally deletes you from the system? How could you get a job? How could you care for your family? How could you even correct such a mistake? You think standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles is a pain in the neck. Imagine standing in line behind 150 million workers at some new federal Department of Worker Security. It's an incredible invasion of privacy and personal freedom and we must continue to be on guard against it.
Or consider some of the nonsense being done in the name of fighting the drug war. Recently, federal officials were pushing a regulatory proposal called "Know Your Customer." It would have, in effect, deputized every bank employee as an agent of the DEA.
Let's say you tried to make a deposit at your bank larger than your usual deposits - maybe you got a big Christmas bonus or sold something on e-Bay, whatever - the bank employee would be required to alert federal law enforcement officials. Why? Ostensibly to monitor unusual activity for potential drug running and money laundering operations.
It's ridiculous. Do we need to stop the scourge of drug use, particularly among our kids? Absolutely. Do we need to be vigilant against "white collar" crime? Of course we do. But again, we don't need to throw out the Constitution and violate everyone's privacy in the process.
The good news is that both of these efforts - national ID cards and the "Know Your Customer" rules have been blocked - for now.
The bad news is that in Washington, policy garbage never gets incinerated - just recycled. (We probably have Al Gore to thank for that.) These nutty ideas will be back, guaranteed. The only way to stop them - and countless others I haven't time to delve into today - is to sweep out the "privacy pirates" and elect leaders who appreciate and will protect the privacy and freedom of the American people.
WHAT THE FORBES ADMINISTRATION WILL DO TO RESTORE PRIVACY
Let me now briefly outline ten strategies the Forbes Administration will pursue to restore the privacy and personal freedom of the American people in the 21st century.
1) The Forbes Administration will require a "Privacy Impact Assessment" of every bill before it becomes law. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and it will begin at the top.
2) The Forbes Administration will vigorously protect the medical privacy of the American people by blocking national health ID cards and shutting down any federal medical database that contains information Washington does not need and has no constitutional right to have.
3) The Forbes Administration will vigorously protect the personal privacy of the American people by creating a one-page Census form. We will fulfill the constitutional mandate of "enumeration." We will not amass huge amounts of information on the personal lives of the American people.
4) The Forbes Administration will protect the financial privacy of the American people by ending the IRS as we know it. We will create a simple new tax code that can be filled out on a postcard or single page. We will create a new culture of tax collection that protects the privacy and dignity of the American people.
5) The Forbes Administration will protect the electronic privacy of the American people by allowing the development and sale of strong encryption software for personal and commercial use. Unlike, the current Administration, we will not allow Washington to force encryption makers or users to hand over their "keys" to unlock and read their private communications. We will also encourage the development and widespread use of new software allowing Internet users to block web sites operators from reading, tagging and tracking their e-mail address - just as you can now block your telephone number from Caller ID systems.
6) The Forbes Administration will work with state and local officials to stamp out "identity fraud." This is becoming a very serious issue. Money magazine reports that some 400,000 Americans each year fall victim to people stealing their personal identification information and perpetrating crimes in their name.
7) The Forbes Administration will block all efforts to create a national ID card and a government-run worker database. We will vigorously fight illegal immigration - but we will not create a Big Brother police state in the process.
8) As President, I will appoint Cabinet officials - specifically an Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services - committed to protecting the privacy and personal freedom of the American people.
9) As President, I will appoint federal judges and Supreme Court Justices who get it - who will strictly interpret the Constitution and strike down laws that overstep the bounds of government, robbing the people of their privacy and freedom.
10) And as President, I will veto any bill that threatens the privacy and personal freedom of the American people.
One of Paul Weyrich's great themes throughout his career - no doubt one of his most enduring legacies - is this: for the American Experiment to succeed, this self-governing nation must consist of self-governing people.
What Paul fears - what I fear - is that slowly but surely we as Americans are forgetting what it means to be free. Bit by bit, day by day, we are being seduced by politicians promising security as they take away at our sovereignty - promising prosperity as they gnaw away at our privacy.
My friends, let me be candid. We must not continue to cede to government more and more control over our lives. We must not sell our sovereignty - our personal privacy and liberty - to the faceless functionaries of government for a bowl of porridge. This may be a Great Temptation in the Age of Government. But let us resist.
For we stand at the dawn of new century, a new millennium. We scan the horizon for new leaders with new ideas - big ideas - to take money and power and control away from the greedy hand of government and restore it to "we the people." We are engaged in a great struggle between those who believe our rights come from government and those who believe our rights come from God. Let us not lose focus. Let us not lose heart.
The next election may very well determine the outcome of this struggle for a generation. Will we be lulled into complacency by a political culture desperate to hold onto power, and a media culture dulled to the magic and mystery of freedom? Or will we seize the moment, reclaim our liberties, and fulfill our destiny as a free and moral people?
These are the questions. You hold the answers. Our future depends on your verdict.
Thank you all very much, and God bless you.