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White House wants to beef up Internet privacy laws

Washington is reportedly asking for new laws and will create a new position to manage efforts to strengthen Internet privacy protection, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration wants better Internet privacy protection and is looking for new laws and a new government office to help in that effort, according to an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Citing people familiar with the situation, the Journal says the White House had asked the Commerce Department to create a report with recommendations on enacting new laws concerning Internet privacy. Currently in draft form, the final report is due to come out in a few weeks.

A special task force headed by Cameron Kerry, brother of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, has also been formed to help turn those recommendations into actual policy. A new federal position would be created to enforce that policy.

Though the government has generally steered away from any type of regulation of online companies, the White House now seems to ready to move over concerns that online industries may not be able to regulate themselves. The renewed effort follows last week's announcement from the European Union that it's also looking for tougher laws to control how personal information is used on the Internet.

Given the current political climate in Washington, though, enacting and enforcing laws over Internet privacy may be a challenge. While enough Republicans would likely support the effort, many may shy away from giving the government too much regulatory control over the online industry.

Naturally, Web-based businesses themselves are wary of any new laws that could restrict their ability to do business as usual. According to the Journal, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which represents online advertisers, already feels the industry is doing enough to ensure privacy.

"We believe we are living up to consumer-privacy expectations and are very advanced in privacy protections and innovation," quoted the Journal of Mike Zaneis, senior vice president of the IAB.

The push for tough Internet privacy laws is nothing new. Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, has been one of the leading Congressional champions of such legislation dating back to 1999. This past May, Boucher unveiled a draft proposal seeking to clamp down on the collection of online data, but several privacy groups complained that the proposal wasn't tough enough.

Another bill introduced in July by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush called for a set of new rules administered by the Federal Trade Commission and fines against any companies that didn't follow those rules. But that bill was seen as too weak by privacy advocates and too broad by the IAB and other industry groups.

The FTC has also been drafting its own report due by the end of the year with recommendations to Congress on regulating certain Internet business practices. Speaking at an event in Canada this past June, an FTC representative said that current Internet privacy laws are not working and place too much of a burden on the consumer to deal with the policies of online businesses.