title: "A privacy kind of guy"


by: Scott Bradner


It did look real bad for privacy lovers.  The very same Republicans who had been saying good (or at least semi-good) things about protecting our privacy started to sing another tune now that they were in power.  First, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was strongly hinting that the active date for the medical-privacy rules that had been too long in coming would be delayed indefinitely.    Then Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey sent a memo to his House colleagues with the clear message to anyone who might be thinking of proposing pro-privacy registration to back off.  The letter, while ostensibly saying that the US government needed to get its house in order before telling others to do good things, was too full of ridicule to be taken for anything but an anti-privacy manifesto.  We privacy advocates were starting to view the new Bush administration the same way that many environmentalists were but without the occasional mitigating action.


A few days later there is reason for some hope.  President Bush "directed", in the language of the White House announcement, Secretary Thompson to let the federal medical-privacy rule become effective on schedule.  The rules do not have to be complied with for two years so there is plenty of time for your HMO to make a buck selling your medical history to your prospective employer.  In addition, the President created some concern when he asked Secretary Thompson "to recommend appropriate modifications to the rule" to address "legitimate concerns" that have been raised about the rule.  The only concern he mentioned was allowing parents access to their children's medical records but the medical industry is busily loading up trucks to try to drive through this loophole.


But other things happened that hopefully will mean that the truck will be at least somewhat limited in scope.  In what was probably not a total coincidence the Wall Street Journal published a extensive article showing that Bush is a privacy advocate.  The article quoted names and unnamed administration officials saying that Mr. Bush will "tend to side with the privacy point of view" and that the President described himself as "a privacy kind of guy" when he made the decision to let the rule stand.  The article also quoted from an interview Mr. Bush had shortly before becoming president in which he said he would protect medical records and "make it a criminal offense to sell a person's Social Security number without his or her express consent."  Good stuff!


The proof will be a while in coming.  Will the President help Dick Armey see the light or will the medical industry win out?  This is but a little skirmish in a long battle to give people power over information about themselves.  The battle will go on for years yet to come.


disclaimer:  Harvard has a new president coming on board soon but I have no idea what his opinion, or the opinion of the University is on this topic.