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July 26, 2002
CONTACT: David Fish
(202) 289-8928

Harper Says "No" to Federal Privacy Standard
Adjunct Fellow Also Warns Legislatures Against Hasty Action

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Appearing before the National Council of State Legislatures at their annual meeting in Denver two times this week, Jim Harper, an adjunct fellow at The Progress & Freedom Foundation, is offering sage advice: Lawmakers should resist the imposition of a federal privacy standard; understand that their on-the-job office e-mail traffic is public; and, lest they make matters worse, resist the impulse to pass state laws regulating the privacy of so-called electronic trails left by e-mails and web surfing.

Harper appeared on a panel to discuss a national privacy standard Wednesday, and appears on another panel, “The Electronic Trail: Perils of Policymakers and Private Citizens,” Friday at 11:45 at the Colorado Convention Center.

Calling state law “the primary source of privacy protection over 100 years,” Harper said Wednesday that states provide “solid baseline protections for privacy…and we shouldn’t undo them.” In the end, he maintains no level of government can “deliver privacy” because it is a “personal responsibility”. “The idea of a national standard has gotten the meager support it has because some companies are tempted by the lure of federal protection,” he said, reminding panelists that industry did not get preemption in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act or HIPAA, and that none was granted in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. “We should be long past the idea that you can have a separate standard for the online world,” he continued. “Online and offline doesn’t exist any more. Everything is both.”

In prepared remarks for Friday, Harper reminds legislators “that you give up some privacy when you enter the public eye or public employment.” He also cites recent Minnesota legislation that “replaced contract rights and business incentives with law and regulation to address a phantom that has never materialized, in that state or anywhere else.” Warning against legislation by “anecdote,” Harper urges legislators to have citizens’ real interest in mind “because the direct costs of regulation are passed on to them, and the benefits of innovation never get to them” Harper is the founder and editor of, a Web-based privacy policy think-tank, and the principal of the public policy consulting firm PolicyCounsel.Com. He is also a member of the advisory committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation