Housing Bill Provision Harms Privacy, Says Diverse Coalition

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2008—Leaders of liberal,
conservative, and libertarian policy groups – from the American Conservative
Union to the American Civil Liberties Union – have banded together to oppose a
provision of the Senate housing bill that would establish a mandatory
fingerprint registry for many workers in the mortgage and real estate industries.

In a letter sent to Senate leaders June 24 about the Housing
and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 – currently being debated on the Senate floor
– 16 signatories write that “the provisions would reduce privacy without any
rational justification.” Sent under the auspices of the bipartisan Liberty
Coalition, the letter is also signed by former Rep. Bob Barr and the
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Citing the bill’s own stark language, the letter notes that
the provisions would require any worker defined as a “loan originator” to
“furnish … fingerprints for submission to the Federal Bureau of Investigation”
and a host of other government agencies. The term “loan originator” is defined
in the bill as anyone who negotiates mortgage terms or prepares loan packages.
This definition could cover thousands of “low-level clerical employees and
part-time and seasonal workers,” the letter points out.

The policy groups also state that they are “troubled by the
scope of this requirement and the lack of a justification as to how this would
serve the goal of reducing mortgage fraud.” The letter notes that there was
little, if any, public debate on how fingerprinting would reduce subprime woes.

The letter also states concern about the bill’s lack of safeguards
for the data collected. Noting the problem of identity theft of fingerprints,
the groups note “the bill contains few restrictions on access to the data and
does not specify how it should be protected.”

The ideologically diverse signatories conclude the letter by
urging the lawmakers to strip the fingerprint mandates from the bill “and
oppose any final legislation containing them.”

Fred L. Smith, Jr., President
of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and John Berlau, Director of CEI’s Center for Entrepreneurship, are
among the signatories of the letter.

See below for the text of John
Berlau’s recent op-ed
in The Wall Street Journal on the
fingerprinting provisions of the current housing bill.

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan
public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited
government. For more information about
CEI, please visit our website at www.cei.org.