Privacy Momentum Slows on Capitol Hill

It was piping hot in 2000, but the issue of privacy is now in danger of ending up on the congressional back burner.

It was piping hot in 2000, but the issue of privacy is now in danger of ending up on the congressional back burner.

Just weeks ago, leading lawmakers were promising a Capitol Hill privacy battle this year. But last week, House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey sent a letter to his Republican colleagues urging them to go slowly on privacy legislation. And as time passes without any movement in the Senate Commerce Committee on the topic, the prospects for 2001 legislation look increasingly dim.

"The sense is with the economy, with the tax cut being front and center, privacy is moving to the background," said John McCarthy, a group director and privacy expert at Forrester Research. "People are saying, not this year, but this Congress. " A Congress lasts for two years.

The issue has raged on Capitol Hill for several years, reaching a crescendo last year. Some industry groups and companies argue that implementing privacy regulations would be costly and burdensome; privacy advocates and consumer groups charge that Netizens are in desperate need of privacy laws in cyberspace.

Last year, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., held a smattering of privacy hearings, introduced his own online privacy bill and vowed to return to the subject in January.

But then campaign finance reform hit, and now, three months after the new Congress began, McCain still hasnt brought a privacy hearing to the Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., has already held three privacy hearings, but the House started far behind the Senate at the beginning of the year and is playing catch-up.

Tauzin has repeatedly pledged his support for privacy legislation and said he would try to negotiate something through his committee. But Armeys letter slowed any momentum in the House for legislation.

Armey wrote that "unexpected pitfalls" lurk for those who "rush into this complicated, emotional issue" of privacy, adding that "in the fast-paced world of the Internet, we must avoid silver-bullet solutions that will quickly become obsolete or leave ourselves vulnerable to criticism that the government is not meeting the standards it requires from others."