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Net rights evolve in a rush

Another grassroots effort to secure people's online privacy arises in the continuing drive for Internet self-regulation.

Another grassroots effort to secure people's online privacy arose last week in the continuing drive for Internet self-regulation.

The so-called Electronic Bill of Rights, drafted by Electronic Frontiers Florida and InfoWar, is a list of proposed measures that would set a personal security standard on the Internet.

The document is a direct response to online privacy concerns that have risen with the expansion of the electronic commerce market. Electronic Frontiers Florida is a public interest group, while InfoWar supplies facts about information security.

"We are now seeking input from the online community to develop the EBR and plan on trying to get it sponsored in Congress--not as a separate document from the Constitution, but as a set of amendments to it that establish standards of freedom, privacy, integrity, and security for electronic communications," said Scott Brower of Electronic Frontiers Florida, one of the document's authors.

Net commerce advocates, such as the industry consortium CommerceNet and public interest group eTrust, are racing to create a system of Internet self-regulation before the government imposes laws to protect online consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission was one of the first governmental agencies to respond to legislative pressure about online privacy with a report issued January 6. Legislators called for regulation over a controversy last year about Lexis-Nexis's P-Trak service, which releases some private information over the Internet to its subscribers.

Congress is working on a regulatory effort as well. Last week, the House introduced the Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act, which would require online companies to obtain written consent before releasing "personal identifiable" information to a third party.

The Electronic Bill of Rights supports this principle, at least in part. It would protect "personal proprietary information" such as medical documents, financial records, and Social Security and passport numbers.

"No body, public or private, shall monitor communication for the purpose of gathering data without the expressed consent of all parties involved in the communication. This includes involuntary disclosure unless authorized by warrant issued by due process of law," the document states. "The personal proprietary information of individuals may not be gathered, bought, or traded by any organization without express written or electronic permission."

In addition, the bill states that people should be able to use encryption and passwords to protect online communication and maintain the right to remain anonymous. The document also addresses other cyber-liberties issues, such as protecting freedom of speech on the Net and securing intellectual property.