Privacy Legislation Stalled in House

Fourth subcommittee hearing covers familiar ground

A House subcommittee held its fourth hearing on Internet privacy this year Thursday, but the unmistakable conclusion from it was that Congress has gotten no closer to passing any legislation on the subject. 

Thursday’s hearing was classic Congressional theater, with plenty of posturing on both sides of the aisle despite the fact that they were covering familiar ground that has been well chewed over in the press and on the Senate side, which held several hearings about the issue earlier in the year.

Like their counterparts on the Senate side, House Democrats called for some kind of baseline privacy legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans expressed skepticism that the government could handle legislation for such a fast-moving industry.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the flamethrower on the committee, didn’t show up, but he did make sure a staffer passed out his statement expressing frustration that privacy legislation hasn’t moved on the House side.

“This is our fourth hearing about privacy this year. There were six privacy hearings in this Subcommittee in the last Congress. At some point the hearings have to come to end and we need to move ahead,” Waxman said in his statement.

Those advocating online consumer privacy legislation need to look elsewhere for solutions to consumer privacy issues, suggested Pam Dixon, the executive director of World Privacy Forum. “We don’t see any likelihood of legislation to protect consumers in the near future. We need to look at self-regulation. If it’s the way forward, we need to inform it,” Dixon said.

That plays right into the hands of the advertising industry, which has been working for years to fend off legislation, rolling out a self-regulation program that uses an advertising option icon on behaviorally targeted ads, giving consumers the ability to opt-out.

“We launched this program a year ago and we are looking for suggestions to make sure it does everything you want it to do,” said Linda Woolley, the Direct Marketing Association’s executive vice president of Washington operations, who was representing the Digital Advertising Alliance at the hearing.