WASHINGTON - Representatives of the Bush and Gore campaigns squared off here Monday over consumer privacy, with each advocating tighter protections.

Speaking on behalf of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas in a debate sponsored by George Washington University, domestic policy adviser Stephen Goldsmith went further than most Republican lawmakers by saying financial institutions should have to obtain explicit customer consent, or "opt-in," before disclosing information in some cases.

"There is a role for Congress … in requiring that there be provisions for an opt-in on medical and financial information," said Mr. Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis. "It would be appropriate for Congress to require very high thresholds for the use of this information."

Financial and medical information "has a higher standard of protection that would require in many cases, if not all, that a person opt in before their information could be moved to another organization," he said

The solution may lie in a combination of enforcing current rules and enacting new laws, Mr. Goldsmith said.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who represented Vice President Gore and is one of the strongest advocates in Congress for stricter information sharing laws, said he was "heartened" by the Bush position.

The Vice President supports privacy legislation similar to that proposed by the White House in May, Rep. Markey said. The legislation has since stalled in Congress and is not expected to be voted on this year.

Under the Gore plan, financial institutions would be required to give customers a chance to block, or "opt out" of, information sharing with affiliates or third parties. The White House would go further for medical information and detailed spending data by requiring customers to opt in before firms could share that information, inside or outside the firm's corporate family.

That bill would exceed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires an opt-out on information sharing with third parties, but not affiliates. The law did not contain any restrictions on the handling of medical information.

While the Bush campaign has not taken a position on information sharing among affiliates, Mr. Goldsmith said after the debate that he believes the policy in a Bush administration would depend on an affiliate's line of business.

For example, financial affiliates would be free to share information with other financial affiliates, but would have to get the customer's consent before giving the data to an affiliate in a nonfinancial business, he said.

Rep. Markey said that a Gore White House would take further steps to strengthen consumer privacy protections.

For example, a Gore administration would advocate an "electronic privacy bill of rights" that would protect online shoppers and other Internet users, he said. "It would give customers the right to choose whether or not their data could be disclosed, along with the right to know how, when, and how much of that information is being used, the right to see it yourself, and the right to know if it is accurate."

If the Vice President is elected, he also would revive legislation he backed this session to ban the sale of Social Security numbers, Rep. Markey predicted.

The Vice President had asked Rep. Markey and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to introduce legislation that would prohibit the purchase and sale of Social Security numbers by private sector companies.

That legislation, which has stalled since passing the House Ways and Means Committee, would penalize companies for denying service to customers who refuse to provide their numbers. It would also amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to include Social Security numbers as information protected under that law.

The bill also would prohibit federal, state, or local governments from selling Social Security numbers.


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