Congress Gives Out Privacy Advice

The Senate Judiciary Committee has compiled a guide, titled "Know the Rules, Use the Tools," to help Internet users protect their privacy online.

"This issue is only going to get more and more hot and more and more important, and we need to find some way to live with it," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, chairman of the committee, at Wednesday's Privacy Technology Fair in Washington, D.C. "I hope consumers will find this handbook a good starting place for becoming more informed about online privacy and some of the options that are available to them for protecting it."

The handbook (judiciary.senate.gov/privacy.htm) gives a brief overview of online privacy issues, updates readers on what legislative work has been done and includes a list of resources, including company contacts on items ranging from "cookies" to digital identity managers.

The guide recommends greater consumer education about what personal information Web sites may be collecting, encourages the use of technology tools to empower users, and urges the private sector to "engage in meaningful self-regulation in order to avoid heavy-handed government regulation."

"This has to be driven by consumers and people using he Internet," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus. "I have long [endorsed] a go-slow approach and am confident the next Congress will work on legislation in this area and define some minimum requirements, but ultimately it's in the hands of the consumers."

The Privacy Technology Fair included demonstrations from myriad companies working on privacy protection tools. Among them were:

* iPrivacy, which is working with the U.S. Postal Service on a private shipping component that would give people the option of picking up a package in person or choosing to have it held at the office location.

* Anonymizer.com, which uses proxy servers to block companies that use cookies to track online activity.

* IDcide, which recently was invited by the Federal Trade Commission to demonstrate how its technology alerts users when they are being tracked online and by whom.

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