A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday presented an outline
for a national consumer-privacy bill, just days after a federal agency
downplayed the need for such a law.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.; Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.; Rep. Bob Goodlatte,
R-Va.; and Billy Tauzin, R-La.; endorsed a draft of standards designed to
protect consumers' privacy online and offline. The framework for
legislation would add teeth to voluntary self-regulation efforts, which
currently encourage but do not require companies to provide notice and
choice about their data-collection practices, Boucher said.
"Self-regulation is helpful when companies are willing to participate, but
there are always going to be companies that don't. Our legislation is
designed to ensure that all Web sites that collect information from
Internet users protect the privacy of those visiting the Web site," Boucher
said in an interview.
The bill is expected to be introduced later this year or in early 2002.
Designs for a bill come as the recently appointed chairman of the Federal
Trade Commission, Timothy Muris, says he will not encourage new privacy
laws and will instead focus on enforcing existing policies. In a speech
last week, he reversed the agency's position, which previously supported
enacting legislation that would let people control the way their personal
information could be shared among businesses online and off.
Anti-terrorist legislation has take precedence over privacy bills since the
Sept. 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in
Washington, D.C., and Muris' stance could further hinder new privacy
Muris cited a lack of consensus among lawmakers for privacy rules as reason
for maintaining the status quo. He also said new laws could be costly at a
time when the industry faces an economic downturn.
But lawmakers behind the proposed legislation say that a new measure could
promote electronic trade by assuaging consumer fears about privacy leaks on
"There is a growing level of concern among the public about the practices of
bugs--much of which is done surreptitiously," Boucher said. "The prevalence
of these practices is to some extent making people reluctant to engage in
electronic commerce, and we need to give the American public greater
assurance that private information is private. The effect will be further
growth and development of the Internet."
Ken Johnson, spokesman for Tauzin and the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, said Tauzin and the committee do not agree with the FTC's
position. The House Committee oversees the Commerce, Trade and Consumer
Protection Subcommittee, which has held six hearings on privacy since last
spring, providing the basis for the new guidelines.
protection of personal information with regard to commercial entities,"
Johnson said. "But we're not talking about sweeping legislation; we're
patching holes in the dike. We've seen leaks pop up in various ways (with
industry self-regulation), and we're looking for a way to plug those leaks,
to deal with the bad actors in the marketplace."
Stearns, chairman of the protection subcommittee, outlined a draft of
safeguards at the press conference that would be the basis for new
legislation. Under the guidelines, companies would be required to give
Internet consumers notice of what information is collected about them,
say how that information is used, and provide consumers with the ability to
opt out of having their data shared with third parties. The provisions
would not give consumers the right to take action against a company, but
instead give the FTC power to enforce the rules.
"The safeguards would become a national policy and supersede conflicting or
inconsistent state law requirements. This would be a floor of privacy
assurance but would not constitute a ceiling," said Boucher, who expects
the legislation to draw broad support from legislators and the industry.
Boucher, who has introduced privacy bills in the past, added: "The time was
simply not right for (privacy legislation) before. The time has now