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Kerry, McCain Introduce Long-Awaited Online Privacy Bill

"You shouldn't have to be a computer genius to opt out," Kerry says
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WASHINGTON—After months of work, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has finally introduced his online privacy bill. Now the legislative debate can begin in earnest.

Joined by his co-sponsor, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kerry unveiled his bill early Tuesday afternoon at a press conference in a small room in the Capitol Building, that was packed with reporters who were there to see two of the Senate's biggest dogs give a press conference, no matter what the subject was. What they saw was a senator who's done his homework on the issue, not to mention his having gone through a number of drafts of the legislation, dubbed the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights.

“You shouldn’t have to be a computer genius to opt out,” said Kerry, who took the lead at the press conference, with McCain off to his side. “Companies can do what they want, but individuals have no legal recourse.”

Though members of the House have been working on bills of their own, industry stakeholders have been most focused on Kerry's bill, which is seen as having the best chance of passage, especially since he's lined up support from some of the biggest names in tech, including Microsoft, eBay, Intel, and HP.

The bill would, if passed, establish a framework to protect Americans' personal information, and would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to establish the rules governing the collection and use of personally identifiable data. It would not, however, adopt the FTC's recommendation of establishing a universal Do Not Track provision.

Under the legislation, companies that collect users' information must provide clear notice of their practices and provide an option to opt out. For the collection of personally identifiable information, individuals must be asked to opt in.

Of particular interest to the advertising community, which has been rolling out a self-regulation program in an attempt to ward off regulation, the bill includes a safe harbor provision that calls for the FTC to give preference to self-regulation programs as long as their provisions are as rigorous as those contained in the bill. 

“The legislation strikes the proper balance. There must be some flexibility in how standards are implemented,” Kerry said.

Even with bipartisan support, the bill has a long ways to go before it becomes law. One Hill staffer who requested anonymity gave the bill about a 45 percent chance of getting passed this year, citing the more pressing debate over the budget and deficit.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., is expected to introduce a bill of his own on Wednesday.