29 Mar Why America Needs The Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act
By Congressman Ron Paul In the House of Representatives
Following are the remarks made by Congressman Ron Paul on the floor of the House of Representatives as he introduced H.R. 220.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act of 1999. This act forbids the federal government from establishing any national ID cards or establishing any identifies for the purpose of investigating , monitoring, overseeing, or regulating private transactions between American citizens. This legislation also explicitly repeals those sections of the 1996 Immigration Act that established federal standards for the state drivers’ licenses and those sections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 that require the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a uniform standard health identifier.
The Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act halts the greatest threat to liberty today: the growth of the surveillance state. Unless Congress stops authorizing the federal bureaucracy to stamp and number the American people federal officials will soon have the power to arbitrarily prevent citizens from opening a bank account, getting a job, traveling, or even seeking medical treatment unless their ‘papers are in order!’
In addition to forbidding the federal government from creating national identifiers, this legislation forbids the federal government from blackmailing states into adopting uniform standard identifiers by withholding federal funds. One of the most onerous practices of Congress is the use of federal funds illegitimately taken from the American people to bribe states into obeying federal dictates.
Perhaps the most important part of the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act is the section prohibiting the use of the Social Security number as an identifier. Although it has now received as much attention as some of the other abuses this legislation addresses, the abuse of the Social Security number may pose an even more immediate threat to American liberty. For all intents and purposes, the Social Security number is already a national identification number. Today, in the majority of states, no American can get a job, open a bank account, get a drivers’ license, or even receive a birth certificate for one’s child without presenting their Social Security number. So widespread has the use of the Social Security number become that a member of my staff had to produce a Social Security number in order to get a fishing license! Even members of Congress must produce a Social Security number in order to vote on legislation.
One of the most disturbing abuses of the Social Security number is the congressionally-authorized rule forcing parents to get a Social Security number for their newborn children in order to claim them as dependents. Forcing parents to register their children with the state is more like something out of the nightmares of George Orwell than the dreams of a free republic which inspired this nation’s founders.
Since the creation of the Social Security number in 1935, there have been almost 40 congressionally authorized uses of the Social Security number as an identification number for non-Social Security programs! Many of these uses, such as the requirement that employers report the Social Security number of new employees to the ‘new hires data base,’ have been enacted in the past few years. In fact, just last year, 210 members of Congress voted to allow states to force citizens to produce a Social Security number before they could exercise their right to vote.
Mr. Speaker, the section of this bill prohibiting the federal government from using identifiers to monitor private transactions is necessary to stop schemes such as the attempt to assign every American a ‘unique health identifier’ for every American–an identifier which could be used to create a national database containing the medical history of all Americans. As an OB/GYN with more than 30 years in private practice, I know well the importance of preserving the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship. Oftentimes, effective treatment depends on a patient’s ability to place absolute trust in his or her doctor. What will happen to that trust when patients know that any and all information given to their doctor will be placed in a government accessible data base?
A more recent assault on privacy is a regulation proposed jointly by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Reserve, known as ‘Know Your Customer.’ If this regulation takes effect in April 2000, financial institutions will be required not only to identify their customers but also their source of funds for all transactions, establishes a ‘profile’ and determine if the transaction is ‘normal and expected.’ If a transaction does not fit the profile, banks would have to report the transaction to government regulators as ‘suspicious.’ The unfunded mandate on financial institutions will be passed on to customers who would have to pay higher ATM and other fees and higher interest rates on loans for the privilege of being spied on by government-inspired tellers.
Many of my colleagues will claim that the federal government needs these powers to protect against fraud or some other criminal activities. However, monitoring the transactions of every American in order to catch those few who are involved in some sort of illegal activity turns one of the great bulwarks of our liberty, the presumption of innocence, on its head. The federal government has no right to treat all Americans as criminals by spying on their relationship with their doctors, employers, or bankers. In act, criminal law enforcement is reserved to the states and local government by the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.
Other members of Congress will claim that the federal government needs the power to monitor Americans in order to allow the government to operate more efficiently. I would remind my colleagues that in a constitutional republic the people are never asked to sacrifice their liberties to make the job of government officials a little bit easier. We are here to protect the freedom of the American people, not to make privacy invasion more efficient.
Mr. Speaker, while I do not question the sincerity of those members who suggest Congress can ensure citizens’ rights are protected through legislation restricting access to personal information, the fact is the only solution is to forbid the federal government from using national identifiers. Legislative ‘privacy protections’ are inadequate to protect the liberty of Americans for several reasons. First, federal laws have not stopped unscrupulous government officials from accessing personal information. Did laws stop the permanent violation of privacy by the IRS, or the FBI abuses by the Clinton and Nixon administrations?
Secondly, the federal government has been creating property interests in private information for certain state-favored third parties. For example, a little-noticed provision in the Patient Protection Act established a property right for insurance companies to access personal health care information. Congress also authorized private individuals to receive personal information from government data bases in last year’s copyright bill. The Clinton administration has even endorsed allowing law enforcement officials’ access to health care information, in complete disregard of the fifth amendment. Obviously, ‘private protection’ laws have proven greatly inadequate to protect personal information when the government is the one providing or seeking the information!
The primary reason why any action short of the repeal of laws authorizing privacy violation is insufficient is because the federal government lacks constitutional authority to force citizens to adopt a universal identifier for health care, employment, or any other reason. Any federal action that oversteps constitutional limitations violates liberty because it ratifies the principle that the federal government, not the Constitution, is the ultimate judge of its own jurisdiction over the people. The only effective protection of the rights of citizens is for Congress to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice and ‘bind (the federal government) down with the chains of the Constitution.’
Mr. Speaker, those members who are unpersuaded by the moral and constitutional reasons for embracing the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act should consider the overwhelming opposition of the American people toward national identifiers. My office has been inundated with calls from around the country protesting the movement toward a national ID card and encouraging my efforts to thwart this scheme. I have also received numerous complaints from Texans upset that they have to produce a Social Security number in order to receive a state drivers’ license. Clearly, the American people want Congress to stop invading their privacy. Congress risks provoking a voter backlash if we fail to halt the growth of the surveillance state.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I once again call on my colleagues to join me in putting an end to the federal government’s unconstitutional use of national identifiers to monitor the actions of private citizens. National identifiers are incompatible with a limited, constitutional government. I therefore, hope my colleagues will join my efforts to protect the freedom of their constituents by supporting the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act of 1999.