Democrats to Introduce Bill Mandating Web Privacy

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - U.S. Senate Democrats today are expected to introduce legislation mandating certain privacy standards for industry Web sites.

The new legislation comes just one day after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission let it be known that the agency does not think industry is doing enough to "self-regulate" in the area of privacy. The FTC on Monday asked Capitol Hill members to introduce legislation on the agency's behalf.

The FTC based its decision to seek legislation on its new survey of industry privacy practices, which is dubbed Privacy Online: Fair Information Practices in the Electronic Marketplace.

"While the Commission applauds the efforts by the private sector to address the issue of online privacy, the survey results show that such efforts have not been enough," said FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky in a statement.

The FTC has approached several Capitol Hill Democrats and asked them to introduce legislation. Sen. Ernest Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, along with a handful of other lawmakers have agreed to introduce the bill, according to a spokesman for Hollings.

Hollings primarily wants consumers to be given more access to the personal information that companies hold on them, according to his spokesman.

The bill will contain provisions along those lines, as well as requirements that companies make clear to consumers how they will use the personal information collected on those customers.

The Hollings-Rockefeller legislation is also expected to contain both opt-in and opt-out requirements, which would force companies to use the most sensitive personal information on citizens only after those citizens proactively agree to that use.

The opt-out clause would be used for data that is somewhat less personal, the spokesman added.

Sen. Hollings has shaken off some of the initial, negative reaction the bill has provoked among the industry, instead claiming that tougher privacy statutes will be good for Internet business, his spokesman said.

"Sen. Hollings believes that ensuring privacy is good business. He believes from looking at public opinion polls that there are a lot of folks out there that are concerned about the privacy of the personal data," the spokesman said.

"By putting some baseline privacy protections in place, the Senator thinks there may be a way to tap into a whole new user group that has not used the Internet because of those concerns," he added.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday will hold a hearing on the proposed legislation.

The Federal Trade Commission, in Washington, is at www.ftc.gov. The Senate Commerce Committee in Washington, is at www.senate.gov/~commerce.

Jennifer Jones is an InfoWorld senior editor.

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