Privacy Bill Teed Up for Next Year
Propenents of measures to protect consumer privacy online are gearing up to spur action in Congress early next year.Protecting consumer privacy online was teed up as a top action item for this Congress, but the initiative was thwarted by the more imminent matter of homeland security and by some thorny partisan disputes. Now, proponents of the measure are preparing to re-introduce it early next year and spur quick action before too many state and local governments pass conflicting privacy mandates. By and large, industry backs the Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2002, as it imposes few, if any, costs and provides broad liability protections. While many companies would prefer no legislation at all, the measure is far preferable to a companion bill in the Senate, which requires different privacy protections for sensitive and non-sensitive data as well as for online and offline data. At a hearing before the House commerce subcommittee, industry representatives testified widely in favor of the bill. Paul Misener, vice president for global public policy at Amazon.com, said that most companies already have in place the kinds of privacy precautions required by the measure. Rebecca Whitener, director of privacy services at Electronic Data Systems Corp., said that the provisions reflect the cost of doing business.
The sticking point for lawmakers is the degree to which companies should be shielded from lawsuits for violating new privacy mandates. The House bill would prohibit private rights of action and preempt state and local laws, which can impose higher standards of consumer protection. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said that the political nature of the debate will demand compromise if the bill is ever to be passed.