WASHINGTON – Ousted Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., is heading over to the American Civil Liberties Union to work on informational and data privacy issues, the organization announced Monday.
The firebrand conservative -- a gun rights advocate, anti-gay rights activist and prosecutor in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton -- told Fox News on Tuesday that the collaboration is not as strange as it might appear at first blush.
"We have actually worked very closely with conservative groups and with the ACLU on a number of issues over the last few years, very successfully in stopping some of the government snooping programs," Barr said.
Barr, who lost a primary bid after redistricting pit him against Rep. John Linder, said that real problems with government anti-terror efforts exist, uppermost of which is the huge amount of authority federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have to gather personal information on people who have nothing to do with criminal activities.
"The only way you that can make this sort of system work, that they are talking about, is if you have access to all, virtually all the e-mail traffic, all credit card transactions, all medical records, all gun purchases. Otherwise the sort of system they are trying to develop here, where they can do cross-referencing and develop profiles, won't have any meaning," he said.
The conservative Barr and the ACLU, known for its liberal stance on policy, have frequently been on the same page when it comes to privacy issues. Both opposed a national ID, the Justice Department's Carnivore Internet snooping system, the proposed "Know Your Customer" banking regulation, and the controversial Operation TIPS citizen-spy program, which was legislated out of existence earlier this month.
Barr said that he and the organization will not focus on issues on which they disagree. For instance, Barr is a strong supporter of the death penalty whereas the ACLU frequently defends convicted murderers from death sentences.
"On all of the issues we disagree, and there are many ... we decided to move those off the table and focus on those cases on which we agree, and that is to place reasonable limits on government power and to do something to protect personal privacy which is eroding at a phenomenal rate," Barr said.
ACLU representatives said that their collaboration with Barr illustrates the right-left union on privacy issues.
"Rep. Barr and the ACLU disagree on many other issues, but we have no doubt that a strange bedfellows collaboration between us will yield great things for informational and data privacy rights," Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, said in a written statement.
Asked whether the rift on privacy issues is now a conservative split with Barr representing one side and Attorney General John Ashcroft representing another, Barr said the issue is one of the government's role in society.
"This is not conservative versus conservative," Barr said. "It is those who believe on both ends of the ideological spectrum in privacy rights against those who have much more faith in the power of government to know and do things."
Barr did vote for the USA Patriot Act, which gives the government "sneak and peek" rules by allowing the government to enter individuals' homes with a warrant while they aren't there and without their knowledge. He said he voted for the bill as a whole because it provided some aspects that "will help tighten up some of the bad procedures under which law enforcement had been operating" but he will work to change some of the provisions with which he disagrees.
Murphy acknowledged that Barr's access in Washington would go a long way in helping the organization influence federal policy. The ACLU is also courting retiring House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, to consult on privacy issues, and expects to name as consultants other departing lawmakers.
Lawmakers are prohibited from directly lobbying Congress for one year after leaving office.