Saturday, February 16, 2002

Capitol computers
might lose privacy

A House bill would make any computer
at the Legislature open to inspection

By Pat Omandam

The speaker of the House and the Senate president could access any state-owned computer at the Legislature to check for misuse, under a bill some lawmakers say borders on invasive.

Opponents contend the bill is unnecessary because they can police themselves. Besides, they say, they do not work for the legislative leadership.

"I work for the people who elected me. I have a special contract with them," said Republican state Rep. Mark Moses (Kapolei).

Legislature 2002 House Bill 2612, House Draft 1, gained preliminary approval in the House yesterday and now moves to House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The bill allows the House speaker or Senate president to access any state computer connected to the legislative server for any work-related reasons, for suspected misuse or for a random inspection.

The bill states legislative employees should not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in any document, file or other electronic information found on any such computer.

House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa) said the bill has safeguards against abuse, such as a requiring legislative leaders to consult with a bipartisan committee before accessing any computer.

Oshiro said the bill mirrors what goes on in the private sector, where employers have the right and authority to access all their computers for whatever reason.

State Rep. Willie Espero (D, Ewa Beach) added that this proposal is an attempt for legislators to keep themselves in check and make sure they do the people's work.

"If there are problems with this in terms of constitutionality, I'm sure it will come up," Espero said. "But at this stage, this is our effort to show the people we are accountable, that we can police ourselves and if there is wrongdoing, we will find it."

Still, there was bipartisan opposition to the measure. Paul Whalen, a Republican from Kona, said there is work of proprietary nature pertinent to each legislator's office that should not be accessible to others. The bill is improper and goes too far, he said.

"We must have confidence in ourselves as legislators that we will follow rules," Whalen said. "Part of the freedom is responsibility."

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