Governors hear privacy debate

Governors heard both sides of the thorny privacy issue Monday at the National

Governors' Association's annual meeting in State College, Pa.

Because some governors soon could be considering privacy policies for

state government electronic transactions, NGA's Committee on Economic Development

and Commerce invited a corporate attorney and a privacy advocate to share

their views. Their views sounded similar at first, but it didn't take long

for the gap to show.

The corporate attorney, Kate Sullivan, general counsel and chief of

staff for Citigroup, spoke about the extensive actions that her company

has taken to comply with Gramm-Leach-Bliley Title V. That law requires financial

services companies to disclose what personal information they collect about

customers and who can see that information.

Sullivan said Citigroup notified all customers in writing and offered

everyone the opportunity to "opt out" of allowing their information to be

used by third parties or for marketing purposes.

"Having a policy if you hide it is like not having a policy at all,"

she told the governors.

Jason Catlett, founder of a privacy advocacy firm called Junkbusters

Corp., urged the policy-makers to realize that lobbyists will be pushing

hard for states to be lax on privacy requirements.

"If you insist that the privacy rights of your citizens be protected,

you'll surely prevail," Catlett said. "If you stand up for privacy, the

entire nation will owe you their gratitude."

Although both speakers seemed to endorse privacy, Sullivan said her

company would refrain from using customers' information only if they specifically

requested the information not be used. Catlett said companies should ask

people's permission in the first place.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, the committee chairman, characterized

the dilemma by saying people "don't want their lives turned into the "Truman

Show,'" referring to the movie in which a man's entire life was broadcast

as a TV show.

Connecticut Gov. John Rowland called privacy concerns "the most serious

to the Internet's vitality." He acknowledged that state leaders face tough

decisions about privacy that include considering legislation's impact on

the cost of Internet use, determining who should do the regulating and deciding

whose job it is to protect people's information.

"As states evolve from paper dinosaurs into digital democracies, people

need faith that their government is protecting their digital information,"

Rowland said.

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