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Congress Introduces Online Privacy Bills
Vol. 807 
April 14, 2011

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Following the urging of President Obama, members of both houses of Congress have authored legislation requiring companies to protect online customer data while also outlining new oversight responsibilities for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Called the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act, the measure would force companies to allow consumers to opt-out of having their information sold or disclosed to a third-party for marketing purposes. “This bill requires covered entities to provide consumers in clear and easy-to-understand language what information is being collected and how the information is being used,” said Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL). “It also provides incentives for covered entities to enter into strong self-regulatory standards.”

If the legislation is passed, companies would be unable to collect personal information like e-mail addresses and credit card numbers without an individual’s consent. The measure would also forbid the collection of even more sensitive data about religion, sexual identity and health. State attorneys general and the FTC would be responsible for enforcing the legislative provisions. “Companies can keep your information for as long as they like or sell it without even letting you know,” said Senator John Kerry (D-MA). “You shouldn’t have to be a computer genius to opt-out of sharing.”

Both of the bills introduced this week do not include the creation of a Do Not Track list similar to the national Do Not Call list related to telemarketing. Instead, the measures offer a FTC-approved five-year self-regulatory program giving certified firms more flexibility in how they implement the bill’s provisions, while others would need to follow the letter of the law.

The legislation does have the support of major technology corporations like Microsoft, HP, Intel, and eBay, but online marketing groups argue the measures could undercut the growth of the information economy. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the information economy will generate $1.931 trillion in the U.S. this year, supporting more than 10 million jobs. “America does not need those brakes applied to this vibrant sector of the economy,” said the DMA, in a statement.

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