• Coalition Letter to President-elect Obama on Privacy

    December 19, 2008

    President-elect Obama:

    We congratulate you on your election as the 44th President of the United States, and we look forward to working with you on one of the most challenging issues facing the country today – the protection of privacy. In our rapidly changing world, we recognize the importance of new technology and new business models. At the same time, there are new risks to citizens and consumers that will need to be addressed.

    As you said during the campaign, “Dramatic increases in computing power, decreases in storage costs and huge flows of information that characterize the digital age bring enormous benefits, but also create risk of abuse. We need sensible safeguards that protect privacy in this dynamic new world.” You committed to “strengthen the privacy protections for the digital age and to harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy.”1

    There is a clear need to address the spiraling problems of identity theft, security breaches, and the commercialization of personal information that has left American consumers vulnerable to fraud and exploitation. We are heartened by your positions on these difficult challenges.

    • Strengthen the Authority of the Federal Trade Commission. “Obama will increase the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement budget and will step up international cooperation to track down cyber-criminals so that U.S. law enforcement can better prevent and punish spam, spyware, telemarketing and phishing intrusions into the privacy of American homes and computers.”2
    • Protect Sensitive Information. “Obama will also work to provide robust protection against misuses of particularly sensitive kinds of information, such as e-health records and location data that do not fit comfortably within sectorspecific privacy laws.”3
    • Protect the Privacy of Personal Information Obtained by the Government.  “One of the things that the American people count on in their interactions with President-Elect Obama 2 Privacy and the New Administration any level of government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that it will stay personal and stay private.”4
    • Respect the Confidentiality of Medical Information. As you said during the debates, only a patient “in consultation with their doctor, family, and clergy” should make difficult medical decisions.5
    • Ensure that Businesses Protect Consumer Privacy. “Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated.” The Protect Taxpayers Privacy Act that you sponsored would prohibit the disclosure of tax return information by tax return preparers to third parties.6
    • Ensure that Homeland Security Databases are Used Only for Limited Purposes. “To ensure that powerful databases containing information on Americans that are necessary tools in the fight against terrorism are not misused for other purposes, Barack Obama supports restrictions on how information may be used and technology safeguards to verify how the information has actually been used.”7
    • Allow States to Innovate and Develop Legislative Solutions. As you recently explained to the state governors, “A single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory."8 It is vital that states have the freedom to respond to emerging privacy challenges and that weak national laws not preempt stronger state safeguards.

    We are also inspired by your commitment to change the politics of Washington and to select people for public office who are not captive to private interest, to close “the revolving door between government and industry” and to reverse the “privileged access to inside information-all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest.”9

    There is an enormous opportunity to realize the benefits of new technology and to safeguard the values that make us free and sustain our democracy. We look forward to working with your administration and the leaders you select for the government agencies on these important challenges.


    Lillie Coney
    Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

    Gil Mileikowsky, MD
    Alliance for Patient Safety

    Laila Al-Qatami
    American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

    Mary Alice Baish
    American Association of Law Libraries

    Lynne Bradley
    American Library Association

    Tom DeWeese
    American Policy Center

    Prudence S. Adler
    Association of Research Libraries

    Mark D. Agrast
    Center for American Progress Action Fund

    Chip Pitts
    Bill of Rights Defense Committee

    Jeff Chester
    Center for Digital Democracy

    J . Bradley Jansen
    Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights

    Doug Bandow
    Citizen Outreach Project.

    Linda Sherry
    Consumer Action

    Susan Grant
    Consumer Federation of America

    Pamela Banks
    Consumers Union

    Marcia Hofmann
    Electronic Frontier Foundation

    Sue Udry
    Defending Dissent Foundation

    Mike Stollenwerk
    Fairfax County Privacy Council

    Mark Cohen
    Government Accountability Project

    Jaimee Napp
    Identity Theft Action Council of Nebraska

    David Blau
    Libertarian Party of Massachusetts

    Michael D. Ostrolenk
    Liberty Coalition

    James Landrith
    The Multiracial Activist

    Dr. Deborah Peel
    Patient Privacy Rights

    Melissa Ngo
    Privacy Lives

    Remar Sutton
    Privacy Rights Now Coalition


    1 Barack Obama, “Change We Can Believe In: Technology,”

    2 Id.

    3 Id.

    4 Obama urges inquiry into passport snooping, CNN (March 21, 2008),

    5 Obama on Constitutional Right to Privacy, http://epic.org/redirect/110708_Obama_CNN_DebatePrivacy.html

    6 Senator Obama, sponsor, 109th Congress, S. 2494, the Protect Taxpayer Privacy Act, available at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.02494:

    7 Id., note 1 supra

    8 President-elect Obama, statement, President-elect Obama and governors tackle the economy, available at http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/president_elect_obama_and_governors_tackle_the_economy/

    9 Id., note 1 supra.

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