Senate Committee Approves Family Privacy Bill

In April, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved H.R. 1271, the Family Privacy Protection Act, which would severely impede the ability of researchers to conduct surveys involving minors. Research advocates from APA and other organizations expressed regret, but not surprise, at the final vote of 7 to 5.

The Family Privacy Protection Act would require written parental consent for any minor to participate in federally funded survey research if the research contains questions in the seven areas named in the bill. These areas of inquiry include sexual behavior and attitudes; illegal, antisocial, or self-incriminating behavior; and parental political affiliations. APA has maintained that current regulations to protect human participatnts are adequate and already inform parents of any research involving their children. The new mandate of a written consent requirement would result in the loss of participation of the children most at risk for developing harmful health behaviors.

APA and other organizations worked with democratic members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to draft a substitute amendment that would more closely track the current regulations for the protection of human participants. The amendment, offered by Sen. John Glenn (D-OH), would allow institutional review boards (IRBs) to continue to have the flexibility to tailor consent procedures to the proposed study and population if the survey research involved posed less than minimal risk to the participant. Sens. Glenn and Carl Levin (D-MI) argued that proponents could offer no sound reason to change current procedures and that local IRBs should retain some measure of flexibility. The Glenn amendment failed, 6 to 8.

Pat Kobor, APA Director of Science Policy and Chair of the Research and Privacy Coalition, which has led the opposition to H.R. 1271, said, 'We are disappointed that the Governmental Affairs Committee did not vote to modify this bill, but it is still possible that we can delay the bill so it does not reach the Senate floor this year. APA and the other organizations in the Research and Privacy Coalition are meeting with Senate staff to ensure that everyone understands the negative effects this bill would have on federally sponsored research with children.'

Kobor praised Sens. Glenn, Levin, and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and their staffs for their work on the Glenn substitute amendment. 'The Senators clearly understood and argued a complex position, and researchers from their states should be proud that their views were so well represented,' she said.

H.R. 1271 has already passed in the House of Representatives. If the bill passes in the Senate without an amendment, it will be sent directly to the President, who is unlikely to veto it. If the Senate amends the bill, differences will be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.

Information about APA's advocacy on H.R. 1271, including testimony and Action Alerts, can be found on the Public Policy Office homepage on the World Wide Web.

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