John McCain and John Kerry Propose "Online Privacy Bill of Rights"

With no fewer than seven pieces of legislation circulating in Congress, the issue of online privacy is back in the news, and hot on Capitol Hill. The latest bills center on the most contentious topics, creation of a 'Do Not Track' mechanism that would allow consumers to 'opt-out' of targeted online advertising, and mobile privacy. What are the proposals, and what do they mean for you?

With no fewer than seven pieces of legislation circulating Congress, the issue of online privacy is back in the news, and hot on Capitol Hill. The latest bills center on the most contentious topics, creation of a ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism that would allow consumers to ‘opt-out’ of targeted online advertising, and mobile privacy. What are the proposals, and what do they mean for you?

First on the docket is proposed legislation from Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass) that would create an “online privacy bill of rights,” the most significant sign yet of bipartisan support for efforts to curb the Internet-tracking industry.

Politico’s “Morning Tech” was the first to obtain a copy of the working draft, and described it as such:

“It allows for an opt-out standard on personally identifiable information that’s not sensitive, and an opt-in feature when the data is especially sensitive. It’s an opt-in requirement also governing data transfer to third parties, unless companies are part of a self-harbor set up with the approval of the FTC – then, it’s an opt out standard. It further includes provisions that would allow AGs and fed regulators to seek civil penalties when companies do serious wrong, but doesn’t include a private right of action.”

As proposed, the Kerry-McCain bill would create the nation’s first comprehensive privacy law, covering data across all industries. Current laws cover only certain types of personal data, such as financial and medical information.

The bill is expected to be introduced ahead of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing next Wednesday on online privacy.

That hearing will examine the collection and use of consumer information, “some of it potentially very sensitive and private in nature,” according to the Committee.

“I want to know if the privacy protections we have in place are enough, or whether Congress needs to step in and do more,” Chairman (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in a statement announcing the hearing.

Also in the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is moving forward with a bill that would regulate geolocation and mobile privacy. The senator told “Morning Tech” he’s “getting close to being able to offer it up,” but did not specify whether he would introduce it as a stand-alone effort or part of a larger package.

“My sense is that we will look at a variety of legislative options,” he told Morning Tech. “I do think that as the public comes to grips with this, because of the extraordinary number of people who have these devices, that we won’t have any problem getting legislative interest when people see there’s a real proposal that responsibly tackles this issue.”

Meanwhile, in House action, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), the new chairwoman of the House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee, highlighted the importance of online privacy in a speech in Washington this week. Bono Mack told the crowd the first-hand experience of her own daughter downloading “Bonzi Buddy,” a malware-infested piece of software that damaged her computer, “really got me into caring about online privacy.” The congresswoman announced she would hold hearings to explore issues related to what consumers expect from websites, and how those services “seek out young audiences,” particularly those under 12 years old.

And, last week, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) announced he would also introduce draft privacy legislation soon, joining colleagues like Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who have also either already introduced or plan to introduce online privacy legislation.

Stearns approach, however, would largely allow the industry to continue many current practices.

In a speech before the Technology Policy Institute, Rep. Stearns said his proposal would allow the FTC to approve a five-year self-regulatory program that would encourage companies to offer more information to consumers about how they were being tracked.

“The goal of the legislation is to empower consumers to make their own privacy choices,” he said.



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