The Course of Internet Privacy Legislation Is Tough to Follow
For a tumultuous trip, you could head for your nearest roller coaster this summer. Or, you could follow the twisted course of Internet privacy legislation, which has had plenty of bumps and turns over the past few months. And the legislative track shows no signs of leveling anytime soon. Heres a quick summation of the action:
The industry even seemed to gravitate toward a particular legislative package: Sen. John McCains (R-Ariz.) Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act and its House complement (H.R. 237).
But by spring, the privacy movement began to slow. As it happened, industry groups such as the Information Technology Association of America werent quite ready to embrace legislation over self-regulation. Congress lost some of its ardor, as well, taking a more deliberative approach to privacy law.
The latest online-privacy bump stems from Sen. James Jeffords (Ind.-Vt.) decision to leave the Republican Party. The resulting shift in Senate leadership has landed new players in committee assignments and created a new legislative agenda.
The key change from the privacy perspective: Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) now chairs the Senates Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, replacing McCain. Hollings plans to introduceas early as this montha privacy bill similar to one he floated last year (S.2606). In a key departure from other bills, Hollings legislation will contain an "opt-in" provision, according to a committee spokeswoman. McCains bill and others support "opt-out."
Opt-in requires Web sites to ask for consumers "affirmative consent" for the use and disclosure of personal information. In opt-out, businesses assume consumers consent unless they indicate otherwiseby un-checking a box that lets a Web site disclose data, for example. Consumer advocates favor opt-in, contending that opt-out places the burden of privacy protection on the consumer.
Some of those tracking the political undulations have paused to catch their breath.
"Right now were currently reevaluating our position, the current makeup of the Senate, and the prospects for legislation this session," says Tom Santaniello, public policy manager at CompTIA.
Industry has a few options: Go on the defensive and attempt to block any form of privacy legislation, work with moderate legislators on a compromise between the Hollings and McCain bills, or stay on the sidelines until the situation stabilizes.
And hold on to your hats.