Monday, March 14, 2011

CPSIA - Sean Oberle Notes the Risk in the Database

Sean Oberle of the Product Safety Letter noted in an Op-Ed entitled "Andre Maginot and the CPSIA Database" that while the database has the ability to do good, it also presents the risk of causing serious harm. He's right, of course. He goes on to note that proponents may be held to account if disaster results. We can only hope. . . .

I think this is helpful and appreciate that Sean made this point. I want to highlight one short section in his essay:

"The metaphor also helps to belie the dismissive reassurances of a few (by no means all) proponents. The issue is not that industry is failing to acknowledge the protections Congress and CPSC put in place. Rather, industry is concerned whether the protections are proper and sufficient. The irony is not lost on me that with the CPSIA database, we’re dealing with a product that has a lot of potential to do harm. The problem is that when you produce a potentially dangerous product – be it a database or a toy – there is only so much that you can do to reassure people before putting it 'out there.' At some point, people simply are going to have to trust you."

There are two important issues here. First, Sean mentions "trust" - and seems to imply that we should give the agency a chance to prove itself. Well, they have already had a chance to prove themselves, and used the opportunity to prove that they don't deserve to be trusted. The risk that we should bear while we wait to see if the CPSC can be "trusted" could literally be fatal to our businesses. Where does it say that markets are to be administered this way? How can this be defended as "sensible" or a worthy risk to take?

The second issue which Sean brushes up against but doesn't discuss is how the database erodes corporate due process rights so significantly. We have essentially had our rights stripped, arguably illegally and illicitly. The government is now in the business of publishing slander and we have no way to stop it. Trust is impossible when due process rights have been removed. Appeal is pointless (as our company's recent experience illustrates), but some semblance of process creates the illusion of individual rights. It's a joke, of course. Maybe we need to call the Small Business Ombudsman. Yeah, that's the ticket!

At some point, the zealots will push too far. The damage they wrought won't be fixable - the dead companies won't rise again. The cost will be borne by our society, but the perpetrators will just move on to another government job . . . .

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