The Obama administration is urging Congress to pass Internet consumer privacy legislation, and the issue was the subject of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
White House calls for online privacy law
"Based on our review, we have concluded that baseline consumer privacy legislation will strengthen the U.S. Internet privacy framework for consumers and businesses alike," Cameron Kerry, general counsel for the Commerce Department, wrote in a department blog post Wednesday. “The Obama administration is committed to working with Congress to pass a bill that provides a stronger statutory framework to protect consumers' privacy interests in data that are collected and used or disclosed in commercial contexts in the Internet economy, while supporting innovation.”
According to Kerry, the legislation should include the concept of a “consumer privacy bill of rights” that is based on widely accepted Fair Information Practice Principles. That is the focus of a bill that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said he plans to propose. In his statement at Wednesday's hearing, Sen. Kerry said he hopes to encourage the sharing of information "but under a common code of conduct that respects the rights of both the people sharing the information and legitimate organizations collecting and using it on fair terms and conditions."
The Commerce Department's Kerry noted in his blog post that the administration recommends granting the Federal Trade Commission "explicit authority" to enforce any consumer privacy bill of rights while still understanding that any standards should evolve and adapt to the digital marketplace. A legislative solution should also help reduce multiple compliance burdens that companies face; provide consumers with more consistent cross-border data protections; and adopt a federal consumer data-security breach-notification law that sets national standards, reconciles inconsistent state laws and authorizes enforcement by state authorities.
Meanwhile, according to an FTC summary of Chairman Jon Liebowitz's testimony at the hearing, industry stakeholders have made progress on creating "do not track" mechanisms whereby consumers can choose not to have their Internet browsing tracked by third parties. The FTC first called for the implementation of do-not-track technology in a report in December.
According to the commission's summary, so far Microsoft Corp. and Mozilla have "recently announced the development of new choice mechanisms" for their browsers ostensibly to give consumers greater control over their behavioral advertising preferences. To be effective, the FTC noted, any do-not-track mechanism should be effective and enforceable, should offer consumers an easy-to-find and easy-to-use way to opt out of having their browsing tracked, and should ensure that privacy settings are consistent and that consumers' preferences are not deleted.
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