Privacy high on Democrats' list

The Democrats made privacy a banner issue at their convention last week

and called for more legal protections. But neither the Democrats nor the

Republicans are offering any details about new laws or regulations they

might seek — which doesn't surprise many people.

"I don't think I stand a chance of getting any detail out of either

party because, quite frankly, I don't think they are prepared for the backlash

they might get," said Linda Reino, chief information officer at Universal

Health Services Inc., a large health care provider in King of Prussia, Pa.

For instance, said Reino, if any candidate were to support legislation

giving patients the right to control who sees their records, that would

create obstacles in a clinical care setting, where many specialists may

need to look at a patient's record. "You have to ask yourself whether this

is a realistic expectation," she said.

At the Democratic convention last week, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) took

to the podium to declare that Americans' privacy is "under siege."

"Big banks and business are profiling our spending habits. They are

selling our credit-card records to telemarketers; our medical records can

be abused," said Inslee.

Observers were quick to note, however, that these declarations are short

on specifics. "I think in perception, the Democrats seem to be doing a better

job on capitalizing on the privacy issue by saying they are going to do

something. I don't know what that something is," said Gary Clayton, chief

executive officer of Privacy Council Inc., a consulting firm in Dallas.

The Republicans, on the other hand, aren't going to let the Democrats

champion the cause, said Alan Westin, publisher of the Hackensack, N.J.-based

journal Privacy & American Business. "The Republicans have signaled

clearly that they are not going to let the Democrats have this issue, that

it resonates too strongly with their own constituencies," said Westin.

The Democrats would likely press for stronger legislative controls and greater

regulatory oversight, said Westin, while the Republicans would be "more

attentive" to business arguments about the practicality of legislation.

In Congress, lawmakers from both parties have proposed privacy legislation

that could affect how businesses maintain and share data.

David Sorkin, a law professor and privacy expert at the John Marshall

Law School in Chicago, said the privacy issue has prompted some strange

alliances between conservatives and liberals. "I think we're going to see

targeted legislation on specific market sectors," Sorkin said. "That has

certainly been the history of privacy regulation in this country."

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