Family Privacy Protection Act: Still a Threat to Survey Research

The Public Policy Office has continued its efforts to prevent enactment of the Family Privacy Protection Act, H.R. 1271. This bill would make survey research involving minors more difficult and costly by requiring written parental consent for most research on youth risk behaviors, such as substance use, violence, and sexual behavior. APA leads the Research and Privacy Coalition, a group of more than 35 science and health advocacy organizations that oppose H.R. 1271.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs approved the Act on April 18, 1996, with a vote of 7-5. The Committee rejected a substitute amendment offered by Sen. John Glenn (D-OH) that APA and other members of the Research and Privacy Coalition helped draft. That amendment tracked more closely the current human participants' protection regulations for research with children, and would have allowed Institutional Review Boards to retain the flexibility to approve alternative consent procedures for research projects posing less than minimal risk. The amendment was defeated 6-8 along party lines (Democrats for, Republicans against).

The Research and Privacy Coalition sponsored two well-attended Senate briefings June 19, 1996--one for media and one for legislative staff--about the Family Privacy Protection Act. Social psychologist Felice Levine, PhD, Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association, moderated the briefings. Joining her were Lawrence Aber, PhD, of the Center for the Study of Children and Poverty at Columbia University; Phyllis Ellickson, PhD, of the Rand Corporation; David Bourne, MD, of the State Public Health Department in Arkansas; and Theresa Schwantes, a parent and school board member from South Milwaukee, WI. The speakers asserted that Congress should not approve a bill that will deprive parents, teachers, public health officials, and others of critical data on the health and well-being of children and youth. According to Dr. Levine, 'This legislation does not protect parents; it shields them from information they need to know.'

As Psychological Science Agenda went to press, H.R. 1271 had not been scheduled for debate by the full Senate. With a crowded legislative agenda, as well as the desire to adjourn Congress by early October so that those running for re-election can campaign, it appears unlikely that the bill will reach the full Senate in the remaining weeks of this legislative session. However, the Public Policy Office cautions against complacency. Pat Kobor, Director of Science Policy, said, 'The bill could be brought to the Senate floor with very little notice. I would advise psychologists to make their voices heard on the issue now.'

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