Putting Teeth Into Privacy Legislation by Susan Hastings H. R. 1984 - that's the apt number a computer has assigned to the new Koch-Goldwater that would expand the 1974 Right to Privacy Act. The new bill is designed to correct many of the ambiguities and weaknesses of the first successful legislation for protecting the privacy of individuals on whom personal information is held in federal government data banks. Public concern with the government's relentless appetite for more and more information about the people it serves has grown with the Watergate disclosures and the recent revelations about CIA and FBI dossier-building. People who formerly were only peripherally aware of the problem, are now joining the crusade against privacy invasion partly because they see the computer, and the data it is capable of storing, as a terrible threat to their right to privacy. They don't like the idea that somewhere, somehow, files are being kept on them; that there are clerks who know about them, and can reach into those files and do things against them. The new law is not perfect, but as Willis H. Ware, chairman of a presidential commission appointed to study the implications of privacy legislation, admits, it's adequate "as a first whack at the problem." Major criticism is directed at what the law has omitted, and conversely, at the prohibitive expense of implementing just what it does include. Privacy legislation does not prohibit the government from keeping data banks, but it does protect the individual on whom the information has been kept from wanton disclosure of that information. The present law covers most personal information systems operated by federal agencies; the new bill would extend legislation to cover state and local governments as well as the private sector. Under it, subjects of data to be released usually must be aware of the nature, the purpose, and the recipient of the information to be disclosed, and should, in most cases, be able to rule on [Image] its accuracy and relevancy. Implementation of the law will be costly: the Office of Management and Budget estimates expenses of $200 to $300 million a year for the first four or five years after a startup cost of $100 million. And that is just for the law as it now stands. People seeking continued privacy legislation want it to cover data in the files of many agencies that are exempt in current and pending legislation, i.e., law enforcement, intelligence and certain personnel records. But these people do have hope for continued legislation, and will continue their battle for new laws, even if they do have to see them passed separately. The American Civil Liberties Union is one extragovernmental group that has worked long and hard for privacy legislation, and it is generally pleased with Congressional response. Ironically, Aryeh Neier, ACLU executive director, gives praise for the victory to the computer itself. Today's fear about computers and invasion of privacy has had a very beneficial impact, he says, because "it created an awareness of the possible danger" for everyone. Neier believes that the computer, although it "may make it a little bit easier to invade privacy", was never the real villain in the personal information game. The technology for managing data banks had achieved a significant enough development before computers came along to create the problem without computers. Before the computer came along, information that was fed into the information files was actually of a more gossipy nature than the harder kind that the computer is fit to handle. But people were more scared about the power of a machine than they ever were about the real culprits - the people who collect the information to use against other people. Government will probably always insist on keeping records about its citizens. Perhaps though, new privacy legislation and the computer that inspired it, will limit the information government can afford to keep and use. After all, it's expensive to feed unnecessary information into data files. It's also expensive to break the law.