Kerry-McCain Web Privacy Bill a Step in the Right Direction

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-04-13 Print this article Print

title=Privacy Bill Lacks Enforcement Power} 

On the other hand, the privacy groups do have one point in their favor. Despite the fact that they're wrong about Do Not Track, they're right in not liking the fact that the bill gives consumers no means by which to hold companies accountable for violating the law. Without a penalty for ignoring the law, the rules effectively have no teeth. This means that while the bill may give consumers certain rights, there is no way to actually ensure that they get those rights. This is a problem. 

In fact, it's a big enough problem that, as well-meaning as the Kerry-McCain bill is, that deficiency should be changed before the Senate gets to vote on it. To accomplish that, the Senators need to make clear in the bill what recourse consumers have when their rights are violated. Or they need to add some kind of enforcement mechanism that's realistically available to consumers. Right now, the draft of the bill simply calls on state attorneys general or the Federal Trade Commission to enforce it. 

While there are civil penalties included in the bill, it currently does not specify what those penalties might be except that the maximum penalty can't exceed $3 million. There's also a daily maximum penalty of $16,500, but that's for not being in compliance. For a large Internet company, the amount is basically chicken feed. 

As a result, someone who believes that their personal information was used has to either convince their state attorney general or the FTC to do something about it. The FTC has been somewhat effective in shutting down junk phone calls through the Do Not Call list, but the process is excruciatingly slow. Depending on the state attorney general involved, it's hard to see how that road would be much more effective. 

The bottom line is that while this bill is probably a very good idea, there should be more recourse for individuals who suffer abuses by unethical, or simply sloppy, Internet commerce companies. As it stands, an individual may never see anything, or have anything changed unless they have the wherewithal to force action on the government. 

Still, with a few more teeth, the Kerry-McCain bill is far better than the weak and bound-to-fail attempts that have gone before it. These senators are on the right track. They just need to make sure that their legislation stays on the right track and actually has some effect once it's signed into law.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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