PRIVACY ADVOCATE HITS ROADBLOCK
Jason Giaimo came to the Alaska Legislature with a problem: in 2008, he had passed two of the four tests to become a certified public accountant, but when he showed up for the third, he was told he would have to provide his fingerprints as proof of his identity. An Alaska drivers license or U.S. passport would no longer suffice.
Giaimo refused to give his fingerprints on principle, and then it became a cause when he learned his prints would have ended up with a "data mining" company that collects and sells private information on people.
"It's an evil, shady alliance and I'm doing my best to expose it," he said in a recent interview.
In 2011, after consulting with Giaimo and other privacy advocates, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, introduced Senate Bill 98 to prevent the sale of any "biometric" information from one company to another. It would only allow fingerprinting and retinal scans for the specific purpose they were sought -- in Giaimo's case, identifying him -- and permit people to present alternate IDs if they objected to giving biometric data. When the specific purpose was accomplished, the data had to be destroyed.
Wielechowski's bill got 10 cosponsors in the Senate, including current and former ALEC members Coghill, McGuire, Dyson and Giessel. It passed the Senate 20-0 on April 14, 2011 and Wielechowski thought it would also sail through the House. House leaders referred it to the Health and Social Services committee, chaired by Keller, where it sat until late in the session in 2012.
"There was a lot to that bill -- it wasn't as straightforward as it looked," Keller said in an interview. In Keller's committee, a representative from the conservative Cato Institute testified that the bill imposed burdensome regulation on industry.
The bill was voted out of Keller's committee three days before the House adjourned and died before it got to its next committee. Keller said he would refer the bill to ALEC for vetting so the people "that have an interest, a huge spectrum," could comment. In an email to a supporter of the bill, Keller said it offered "potentially overreaching solutions that have not been vetted by all concerns."
Until then, Giaimo said, he had not heard of ALEC.
"I can't imagine any good reason that we would wait or care what they thought about this bill that's from Alaska for Alaskans," he said. "Almost 100 percent of every single person I've spoken with in the last four years, whether they be government or political types or Republicans, Democrats -- they all support this. It's these international data mining companies and the biometrics industry -- these people that are making millions of dollars off this data ... that are trying to crush privacy movements like this."
Giaimo said he is hopeful the biometrics bill will be reintroduced again in 2013 and will pass this time.
STAND YOUR GROUND
ALEC's role in promoting Florida's Stand Your Ground legislation around the country emerged in a burst of media coverage after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida in early 2012. Zimmerman has cited the law in his defense and is set for trial on second-degree murder in 2013. The case became highly politicized and opponents of the law pressured corporate members of ALEC to withdraw their sponsorships. More than 40 cut ties, according to the nonprofit Source Watch, including Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and McDonalds. Hundreds stayed with the organization, including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips.
Dyson said he was curious to see whether there were lingering effects on ALEC when he traveled to Washington, D.C., in November to attend the organization's post-election policy summit. Some 800 legislators were there, Dyson said, and ALEC reported the return of some of the corporations that had dropped their memberships.
Dyson said he got a lot out of the policy summit precisely because of business representatives who were there. He was interested, for example, in what lessons were learned by utilities after the big East Coast storms and found utility managers with good information, he said.
That's one of the reasons he values his membership, he said. He also likes ALEC's philosophy.
"They're committed to limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty," he said. On a practical level, the group makes the legislative process run smoother, he said.
"The value to me, is when people call up and they want me to champion some issue, I'm always asking the question -- have other jurisdictions done this? -- so we don't have to plow new ground. I want to know what the consequences have been," he said. ALEC is one of the organizations that can provide that information, he said.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com.