States More Proactive Than Feds on Privacy Protection, Advocates Say

State and local governments are leading the federal government in protecting citizen information, according to privacy advocates lobbying for a new federal agency to regulate how online businesses use consumers' personal data.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy groups met with White House officials May 6 to promote the formation of the new federal entity.

EPIC and other groups praise the efforts that state and local governments are taking to protect personal information, in sharp contrast to federal efforts. States such as Minnesota, California, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut have been leading the way toward greater government protection of private information through regulation and the establishment of privacy agencies, according to EPIC's director, Marc Rotenberg.

However, Rotenberg and others want to see the federal government do more. "We want the best of both worlds, which means a comprehensive national policy and preserved state authority," he said. "Yet, it's probably a little early to have that discussion because the administration really hasn't expressed interest yet in legislation."

The White House has been hesitant to take sweeping steps to regulate privacy issues, but the Clinton administration did recently offer its new Financial Privacy and Consumer Protection Initiative -- a move that will place additional privacy regulations on banks and financial firms. The Federal Trade Commission also released long-awaited rules that limit the types of information that World Wide Web sites can collect on children.

-- Heather Hayes (hbhayes@cfw.com)

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