Privacy Bill's Unintended Consequences

Privacy Bill's Unintended Consequences

by / April 30, 1996
There is an endless conflict between access and privacy.

In late February, a bill was introduced in the California state Legislature that would add the following prohibition to the state's civil code:

"No person or corporation may use or distribute for profit any personal information concerning a person without that person's written consent. Such information includes, but is not limited to, an individual's credit history, finances, medical history, purchases and travel patterns."

This kind of privacy protection legislation certainly isn't unique to the Golden State; similar bills are often proposed around the nation -- and around the world. It sounds wonderful, doesn't it -- at least, at the most naive, completely unthinking level.

Now let's consider its ramifications.

For starters, it certainly could not withstand a First Amendment test of its prohibition on (for-profit) speech and press. As stated, it would prohibit all for-profit newspapers, magazines and broadcasters from disclosing any information about anyone without first obtaining their written consent. No more unkind disclosures about O. J. Simpson; no more information about political aides being connected to the KKK or militia; no more 60 Minutes expos