Forbes slams federal IT programs

Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes on Thursday gave federal information technology professionals a glimpse of what they could expect if he were elected next year.

In a speech in Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, Forbes promised if elected to screen all legislation for its impact on privacy before signing it, to block programs that compromise medical privacy and to stop the Census Bureau from amassing huge databases of information

Forbes warned that the government is planning to build data systems that would collect information on individuals' health, travel, jobs, spending habits, performance in school and other personal particulars that it has no right to collect.

The plans represent "a brazen and dangerous assault on privacy and freedom of the American people," said Forbes in an address to the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

The most invasive plan is one developed by the Clinton administration to create "a massive centralized national health care database" and assign "a unique health identifier—an identification number—to every man, woman and child in the United States," Forbes said.

The database and health identifier are part of the Clinton administration's effort to set up "a Soviet-style health care system," in which privacy is the first casualty, Forbes added.

The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, is developing "a battery of regulations" that would enable the government to "electronically tag, track and monitor your personal medical information and make it available without your consent to other government agencies, public health officials, researchers, law enforcement agencies, courts, lawyers and even employers," Forbes said.

Forbes said another information collection system, one being developed by the Health Care Financing Administration, would require "nearly 10,000 home health care agencies nationwide to transmit sensitive medical information into a government database."

Along with other data, HCFA would collect medical histories, "personal characteristics," race, information on individuals' living conditions, and financial and behavioral characteristics. Health care providers would report whether individuals exhibited signs of depression or suicidal tendencies and whether they used profanity or included sexual references in their conversations, Forbes said.

Forbes also took on the Census Bureau, which he said has expanded its mandate to include collecting pages of data on peoples' finances and living conditions. "What business of government is it to know all this? It is none of their business," Forbes said.

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