Senators John Kerry and John McCain jointly co-sponsored a privacy bill that would require companies to protect personal information they collect online and allow opt-outs.
Two prominent Senators introduced a bi-partisan Internet
privacy bill to define some rules governing how Web companies can collect
information about its users.
The 2011 Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act co-sponsored
by Sen. John F Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. John McCain of Arizona would
force Web companies to clearly explain to their Internet users how they collect
information and what they do with it. The "privacy bill of rights" introduced
April 12 sought to give consumers greater control over their online data.
The bill, if passed, would make it harder for major Websites
to target users using profiles based on personal data. Companies would be
unable to collect or share personal identifying information, including names,
email addresses and credit card numbers, without an individual's direct
consent. Sensitive information such as religious affiliation, sexual identity
and health would also be out of bounds without explicit consent.
"Consumers want to shop, browse and share information in an
environment that is respectful of their personal information," McCain said at a
news conference where the bill was announced.
The legislation is a framework that allows businesses to continue
to advertise and market to consumers, McCain said. However, users must also
have the ability to easily opt out of data collection so that their personal
information is not shared with any third parties.
"Plenty of companies collect data and use it with high
ethical standards," generating economic growth that "benefits all of us," Kerry
said at the same news conference. But there are other companies who do
"virtually anything they want," Kerry said.
Right now there is a "patchwork of standards" which makes
online consumer privac
y very confusing, Lisa Sotto, partner and head of the privacy & information
management practice at New York-based Hunton & Williams, told eWEEK.
The joint McCain-Kerry bill does not mention the "do not
that was recommended by the Federal Trade Commission in December.
Kerry said he didn't think it was necessary to include it, but consumer
advocacy groups including Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy,
Consumer Action, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times criticized that
decision. In a joint statement, the groups withheld support of the measure because
it did not require a "DNT" mechanism in Web browsers that would allow users to
opt-out of all online tracking.
The groups also did not like the fact that consumers
couldn't hold companies accountable for privacy violations. If the law is
passed, private lawsuits, including class-action suits, against companies for those
violations would be prohibited.
The bill has the backing of the Obama administration
both an "ambitious piece of legislation" and a "consensus version" that
balances consumer needs and business interests, Sotto told eWEEK. "There's been a lot of behind-the-scenes
discussion" to make the bill "palatable" to both sides so that it would pass,
Sotto said, noting that the bill had undergone 11 revisions in draft form.
The proposed bill provides a co-regulatory framework that
would allow the industry to partner with government to create flexible rules
for businesses to reduce any negative impact on the Internet ecosystem, Daniel
Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation
Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank, told eWEEK.
"We are pleased to see this bill follows fair information
practice principles and avoids technical mandates," Ed Black, president and CEO
of Computer & Communications Association, told eWEEK. Tech companies
understand that loss of privacy can have a chilling effect on online activity,
Intel, Cisco, eBay and Hewlett-Packard issued a joint
statement commending the bill for being flexible to account for rapid changes
in technology. "The bill also strikes the appropriate balance by providing
businesses with the opportunity to enter into a robust self-regulatory
program," the companies said.
Castro estimated the "Internet ecosystem" generated more than
$300 billion in "annual economic activity" in the United States.
However, voice from the Web media sector sounded a negative
note. The industry is "policing itself" and a government-enforced legislation
was unnecessary and would be restrictive, Steve Minichini, president of interactive
at media agency TargetCast, told eWEEK.
Similar legislation is currently making the rounds in the
House of Representatives.