Can You Keep a Secret? - Page 2

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Sounds of the Senate

With the recent change in US Senate leadership, some pundits suspected Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), the new chairman of the Commerce Committee, would revive the privacy debate that has lain dormant so far this year. Andy Davis, the senators communications director, would not share a timetable for such action, but acknowledged that the issue will be revisited. "Its highly likely he will reintroduce [the legislation], but the bill may not be identical to last year."

Whatever agenda Hollings attempts to set, Davis says that one principle must be made clear. "Before a company acquires their personally identifiable information and sells it to third parties or uses it in various ways, they need to have the affirmative consent of the individual."

"Most companies argue that profiling helps them create a very customized experience on the Web, and thats all well and good if the individual has consented to that activity," says Davis. "[The senators proposed framework] would allow individual users reasonable access to correct, supplement, augment whatever information theyve acquired about them, and make sure that pictures accurate."

Those that still hold out hope for industry self-regulation may find their pleas falling upon deaf ears. "The FTC has done more than five years of studies at this point that have proven that self-regulation has failed," says Davis. Yet FTC chairman Timothy Muris recently declared his opinion that new legislation was not called for. And legislative pushes in the wake of the September 11th attacks have tended towards fettering the free flow of information but broadening governments ability to collect it. It will likely be some time before the executive and legislative branches can synchronize with each other, and with both corporate and public opinions.