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Database Nation Author Urges Agenda for Congressional Privacy Caucus

February 14, 2000

San Francisco, CA--Simson Garfinkel, author of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century, today recommended an agenda for the newly-formed Congressional Privacy Caucus.

"Congress should immediately set about the task of drafting and implementing a National Data Protection Act--an Act that the American People have been denied for more than 30 years. Congress should also create a National Data Protection Office that would protect privacy in the 21st century the same way that the Environmental Protection Agency narrowly avoided an environmental catastrophe at the end of the 20th," says Garfinkel.

In this groundbreaking book Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century, Garfinkel calls for a 5-point policy plan, including:

  • Establishment of a national data protection act
  • Creation of a data protection office
  • Refunding of the Congressional Office Of Technology Assessment
  • Modification of many existing laws
  • Creation of new consumer-protection laws to protect privacy in the 21st century
Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle, announced Wednesday the formation of a Senate Democratic Privacy Task Force, while Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., disclosed the creation of a bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus of senators and House members.

"The issue of privacy touches virtually every American, often in extremely personal ways," Daschle, D-S.D., said in a statement issued February 9, 2000. "Whether it is bank records or medical files or Internet activities, Americans have a right to expect that personal matters will be kept private. Today, in too many ways, however, our right to privacy is at risk. Our laws have not kept up with sweeping technological changes. As a result, some of our most sensitive, private matters end up on databases that are then sold to the highest bidder. That is wrong, it's dangerous, and it has to stop."

"Fifty years ago, in the book 1984, George Orwell imagined a future in which privacy was vanquished by a totalitarian state," explains Garfinkel, "In 2000, we find the threats to our privacy are not coming from a monolithic 'Big Brother,' but--even harder to grapple with--hundreds of sources, not seeking to control us, but merely to market to us, count us, or streamline paperwork. The result, though, is just as chilling as 1984."

"It would be nice to turn back the clock on our massive effort to build an instrumented planet in which every transaction and every happening is recorded, logged, and indexed," he adds. "But many gains in privacy can be accomplished by simply establishing standards that define what uses of information are appropriate and which are forbidden."

"Up till now, the high tech industry hasn't done a good job of educating lawmakers and the public about the implications of the technologies we're creating," says Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, a computer-industry pioneer and publisher of Simson's book, Database Nation: the Death of Privacy in the 21st Century. "Because Simson's book does such a clear job of laying out the threats to America's privacy, we have sent copies to the Hon. Tom Daschle, Richard Shelby and the other members of this important caucus, and have made a standing offer of complimentary copies to other federal, state and local lawmakers."

Garfinkel's book (which Ralph Nader calls "a graphic and blistering indictment--one that you're entitled to take very personally") was just released by O'Reilly & Associates in hardcover, for $24.95.

Online Resources

  • Chapter 6, which deals with medical issues, is available free online.

  • More information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and sample chapters.

  • The author's web site, including discussions about the book and related privacy and computer security issues.

  • Cover graphic in jpeg format.

  • Images of Simson Garfinkel
Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century
By Simson Garfinkel
1-56592-653-6, 320 pages, $24.95

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