Rockefeller Eyes Online Privacy, Consumer Protection Issues

The split in control of Congress—where Democrats still have a majority in the Senate and Republicans now dominate the House—is bound to lead to gridlock. This week, it’s become apparent that the conflict is likely to extend to forthcoming Internet legislation and regulation.

On Thursday, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., outlined his committee’s priorities for the new session. Topping the list are, among other things, online privacy and consumer protection. That’s in contrast to the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee, which listed Internet privacy, cyber security and content protection as “possible” topics, while putting a priority on the Federal Communications Commission’s new net neutrality regulations.

Rockefeller, who strongly advocates giving the Federal Trade Commission more authority to take action to protect consumers, held a hearing on online privacy last July, grilling executives from Facebook, Apple and Google. He also co-sponsored legislation to protect consumers’ personal information and prevent identity theft that called for a nationwide notice in the event of a security breach. The committee never reported out the bill.

The issue of online privacy is heating up on Capitol Hill following reports issued in December by the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department. Frustrated that the industry wasn’t acting quickly enough to protect consumer privacy, the FTC made several suggestions in its report. Included among them was a “Do Not Track” scheme that would give consumers the opportunity to easily opt out of services and Web sites that wish to track their Internet activity and personal information.

Comments on both reports are due at the end of the month.