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Mr. LINOWEs. The first commission subcommittee appointed by the Chair was a subcommittee to address itself to that question. State Senator Tennessen is chairman of the subcommittee and Mr. Dickinson, recently retired managing editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin, is also a member of it.
There has been extensive staff work done. Perhaps our General Counsel can address himself to that in further detail.
Mr. PLESSER. We have had some initial discussions. We had some press people come into talk to the Commission to give their point of view. In January, we had representatives of the press organizations. We like to view it not as a conflict but as a reading together. We think they can coexist very easily.
We are in the process of working out an analysis of the two statutes together. Rose v. Department of the Air Force, the recent Supreme Court case, makes it a little bit easier to read the two statutes together. The issue is of great concern to us, not only in terms of the Federal sector but in looking at the State and local sectors to be sure that whatever is done from a privacy point of view does not infringe on freedom of information questions.
Our staff is working with Senator Tennessen's subcommittee to formalize the position which will guide our work in all activities.
Ms. Abzug. I have a problem with all of this. I think that the directions in the statute as to the functions of your Commission are too vast. What I am concerned about, frankly, is the ability of this Commission to concentrate in areas where others are not concentrating and to fulfill the responsibility which was intended by the Congress.
It is not quite my view—I want you to be aware of this that money should be spent by your Commission in the area you just discussed.
I may be wrong, but I am trying to figure out the major area of concentration which I think your Commission should be involved in and what the money should be spent for, what it was intended this money be spent for.
As a general proposition—this is my view and my interpretation of how this originally evolved, and I grant that the language in the statute is quite broad, so that you could be going into many different things—I think your major concentration, your major contribution has to be in the entire area of the private sector. There are grave questions as to what is really happening there and how we can deal with the question of the data bank and related issues which affect and impinge so deeply upon the privacy of individuals.
In my judgment, that is the area that the Privacy Act does not cover. That was the real reason, in my opinion, the Privacy Commission was set up, to deal with the substantive questions which involve the entire vast area which the Privacy Act itself did not cover.
That is what I want to see you concentrate on. I think that the Congress has the responsibility to see that you hew to that line.
Mr. PLESSER. I would like to assure you-
Mr. PLESSER. No. 1, I agree with you. If I had to give you an estimate of how my time is spent over the past 9 months, I would say 99 percent of my time has been spent running our hearings, which have been primarily on the private sector with the exception of the one hearing we have had on Federal tax return confidentiality, which was mandated by the statute.
Ms. ABZUG. If I may interrupt, we have in the Congress a lot of committees, not only my own here, which are dealing with some of the problems concerning governmental invasions of privacy and technology development. We are not requiring this Commission to duplicate that area. I just want to make that very clear to you.
I was a little surprised that you have gone into a couple of areas which might be duplicative, even though you might well make a more significant contribution. I am not commenting on that, however. I am sure your work has been fine. However, you should try hard to make your contribution in the area that governmental or congressional committees are not now going into, namely, in the private sector.
I interrupted you. Please proceed.
Mr. LINOWES. I just want to stress that we completely endorse the statement you have just made in terms of the private sector. The evidence of that is the hearings we have been having-on the banking industry, credit cards, employment policies, mailing lists.
Yet, we cannot put our heads in the sand. We see peripherally these different elements pulling at us.
As Mr. Plesser indicated, there is no question that the issue of freedom of information versus privacy has taken an insignificant share, if you can even identify a share, of the budget. It has been something which has been carried by Mr. Plesser as General Counsel and hearings officer almost on an offtime basis as a labor of love more than anything else.
We share the view that the important contribution we can make to this very intensive 2-year effort is mainly, because no one else is there, frankly, in the private sector and peripherally in the public sector.
Ms. Abzug. One of the problems you have in dealing with this statute, as I said before, is that it contains a lot of direction as to the scope of the Commission. Some of it was thrown in there because we in the Congress did not agree as to how some of these things should be resolved. This is, however, the statute we finally adopted.
The language of the statute is permissive in a number of areas, and I would not get into those areas if I were you, at least not as a major field of concentration.
If you are going to get this additional funding, I would like your Commission to come up with some concrete proposals. There are many different things that the Commission has had suggested for its studies and you can get too diverse.
In my opinion, many of these things are permissive and I would try not to get into those areas.
Mr. LINOWES. One observation in reference to that to show you how these things interrelate. There is considerable concern, both in Congress and on the part of the public, with regard to the use of the social security number as a universal identifier. You can say that is a public sector issue.
However, we have to probe each private-sector group to see what use they are making of that social security number.
That is one of these crosscutting areas which we feel for efficiency purposes we are best advised to handle as an entity unto itself, using as input data and material we have accumulated as a result of expert testimony from private-sector witnesses.
Frankly, I also believe the social security number or any other universal identifier is a very important issue, but we find these overlapping constantly.
Another area of overlap is that we are being bombarded, I use that term advisedly, with urgings by the private sector to inject ourselves on a priority basis into the problems of privacy legislation now being considered by the many States. Over 36 States are considering it. The private sector is concerned about the problem of trying to comply with 50 different statutes dealing with privacy.
Here again it is a public sector issue, but the private sector is very anxious to participate and even suggest ways in which we can recommend legislation in order to preempt that area.
Therefore, we are very much attuned to the emphasis which you suggest, and we are certainly addressing ourselves to that.
Necessarily, however, on the periphery there are these other elements to which we have to pay attention.
Ms. Abzug. This subject comes up because I feel you could probably, if you followed each of the areas of inquiry which the statute suggests, use a lot more money than you are requesting.
It is true that the use of the social security number is an issue of grave concern, and a lot is going on in that area. I suppose you can say that the reason you have to go into it, too, is because the social security number is a vehicle through which information is frequently transmitted in the private sector.
Mr. LINOWES. That is right.
Ms. Abzug. However, I think there are areas there-again, this is in the permissive area—where you should carefully consider what you should
into in terms of analysis and study. Even if you get the increase in appropriations, you still have a rather limited life as well as a limited budget, and you should bring in many important recommendations and conduct important hearings and studies.
Mr. LINOWES. Madam Chairwoman, we value your opinion and advice in this regard. We shall certainly give it the kind of important emphasis which I personally feel it deserves.
I suspect if we had more time for dialog, you would be equally convinced that we are giving our entire project the kind of emphasis that you are describing, that which you would like to see us give.
Ms. Abzug. Have you done any work with respect to the standards for security and confidentiality of records when a record is disclosed to a person other than an agency to determine what extent Government and private information can affect Federal-State relations and the principle of separation of powers?
Mr. LINOWES. I do not believe we have gotten to that. Perhaps our Executive Director can be more helpful in indicating what that status
Miss Parsons. These are two subjects on which the Commission is required to report to the President and Congress.
We are just beginning work on the standards which should apply when a record covered by the Privacy Act is disclosed in the manner you describe.
The reason we have delayed—I hate to keep coming back to this-is that we have had to postpone hiring the person we knew was capable of doing that for us, because we knew we couldn't afford to have him on board last winter. He has come on board within the past 3 weeks, and we will be working on that.
As to the Federal-State relations and the separation of powers question, again the money for doing that project is in the $250,000 supplemental. To follow up again on the discussion regarding the relationship in our program between public sector and private sector issues, the Federal-State issue and separation of powers issue are directly related to the recordkeeping practices hearing we have scheduled on public assistance and social service agencies; for example, where the question of the ability of States to manage programs with a reasonable degree of autonomy when the Federal Government is paying the money and writing the ground rules as to their information systems is a central question.
Mr. PLESSER. I would like to add that we have been doing a lot of preparatory work in terms of getting information, for example, in our insurance hearing, where a great deal of emphasis was placed on the role of the State insurance commissioner in controlling the use and maintenance of information by insurance companies operating in the States.
That kind of factual analysis is very important for us to get into. We have done this in the banking area and all other areas; that is, to try to analyze the nature of Federal control as well as the nature of State control in order to come to some resolution of this question which then will be treated as a crosscutting project.
Ms. ABZUG. There has been some indication that there have been questionable transfers of records between Federal and State agencies. I think a number of committees have gone into this peripherally, but the question of Federal-State transfer of records has come up in many centers of the country. Again I was trying to analyze the areas you have been going into and whether that should be an area of concentration. I imagine it depends upon your staff. How many do you have on
Mr. LINOWES. We have some 23 now. Some
and general range is about 25.
Have you a more precise figure?
Miss PARSONS. We have 2i full-time people and 3 temporary and part-time people. Our ceiling is 25 permanent employees; that is, permanent for the duration of the Commission.
Mr. LINOWES. If I may bring to your attention—we have addressed ourselves precisely to the question of sharing of information with the States insofar as information in the files of the Internal Revenue Service is concerned, and have recommended limitations on some of that transmission of information. That is in this report.
Ms. Abzug. You do not get too many administrative requests, then? I want to be sure, should the committee agree you should have additional funding, that we maximize what the Commission is doing. You do not get that many requests for involvement in administrative discussions and other forms of assistance requests?
Miss PARSONS. No; but we also do not encourage them.
Ms. ABZUG. I think you are quite wise. That can take a great deal of time. In the last analysis, some of the applications of the problems in the Privacy Act as well as the Freedom of Information Act are subjects with which committees of Congress, such as ours and our counterpart in the Senate, have been dealing, and we have had quite a few problems. We have attempted to resolve them administratively.
We have had many meetings, and there may be considerable duplication in that area. We have to resolve them, because they have been affecting the functioning of both Congress and the development of legislation specifically on privacy and other areas which we may be interested in. We have also had a considerable number of problems with agencies seeking to utilize their various authorization committees to provide them with ways around the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act.
Mr. HIRSCHHORN. Getting back to a discussion of your examination of the Privacy Act, on page 9 of your statement, you say that you require $27,000 more than the $12,000 now allocated for the Privacy Act assessment project.
Can you explain what the project covers now and what you expect to add with the additional $27,000?
Mr. LINOWES. Perhaps our Executive Director, Miss Parsons, can cover the specifications as to what is included in that $27,000.
Miss PARSONS. The $12,000 is for compensation for the project manager. The $27,000 is to provide the project with assistance in analyzing the 8,000 system notices that have been published, the several hundred sets of regulations that have been promulgated, the reports agencies are required to file with us as well as with the OMB and Congress, and to permit us to do case studies of the actual implementation of the act and implementation problems.
We feel it is important for us to understand what the implementation problems have been and where implementation has been easy even though it was originally anticipated to have been very difficult, as a check on the testimony and commentaries provided to us by organizations which are not now subject to the Privacy Act, as to how they may or may not be able to comply with the act's requirements.
Mr. HIRSCHHORN. I realize that you are going into it because it helps to educate you as to what the problems might be in the private sector. Given your tight budget, I wonder how deeply you should go into this.
Mr. Higgs. How are you going to say anything about the applicability in another world unless you know how it has worked in this world?
Mr. HIRSCHHORN. I am not quarreling with that. It is just that it is easy to find yourself wandering off base.
Mr. PLESSER. We are conscious of the dangers of duplication. We are not looking at it as an oversight task; that is, to see whether the agencies are doing their jobs, which I understand congressional committees are doing. Our job is to determine whether the requirements of the Privacy Act should be applied to the private sector and State and local governments.
In order to do that, we have to understand firsthand how the Privacy Act is working and what some of the difficulties in regard to definitions and general and specific approaches are, so we can try