The Federal Trade Commission has announced a lineup for its new Advisory Committee on Online Access and Security. The 40-member panel, which will study the handling of private data by commercial firms over the Internet, likely represents a milestone on the road to broad government regulation of online privacy.
The FTC received 188 nominations to the panel, created in December to report to the commission on the mechanics of giving Web surfers access to personal data, and to set standards for evaluating Web site security measures. The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection culled 40 names from that list, including representatives from the TRUSTe privacy clearinghouse, the Direct Marketing Association, America Online, Time Warner, Microsoft, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group. A FTC representative said the panel's makeup was purposefully tilted toward people with direct expertise and experience in the issues.
"The roster of distinguished members of this Advisory Committee represents a broad cross-section of e-commerce experts, online businesses, security specialists, and consumer and privacy advocates," said FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky in a statement. "The commission is gratified that the members have agreed to serve on the Advisory Committee as we address the challenges of assuring consumer privacy online."
Notable nominees excluded from the panel include Esther Dyson, the interim chairwoman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and Jason Catlett, the president of privacy watchdog group Junkbusters.
The panel could have the chance to shape the first broad governmental regulation of online privacy. Such regulation is increasingly seen as inevitable, in the face of numerous Internet security breaches in recent months and growing public awareness of the issue.
Several state legislatures have introduced broad privacy-rights bills. Some commercial firms and trade groups are stepping up lobbying efforts with Congress, which also has pending privacy legislation, in an effort to jump into the saddle and steer a federal law that could preempt states' efforts.
"Privacy legislation has caught on," says Ari Schwartz, a spokesman for the Center for Democracy and Technology, which advocates privacy. "Legislators are hearing from their constituents, and I think industry has started to recognized that."
But the FTC remains officially opposed to privacy legislation, and industry is far from united in its willingness to compromise with legislators and privacy advocates. One committee member, Rick Lane of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, remains a vocal opponent of government regulation.
The committee's first meeting is scheduled for Feb. 4, at FTC headquarters. It will meet a total of four times before submitting its report to the commission by May 15.