FTC, senator seek online privacy rules
- By IDG News Service, Patrick Thibodeau
- May 24, 2000
The Federal Trade Commission's call for privacy regulations to protect online
consumers has triggered heightened interest in Congress for comprehensive
Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), is introducing legislation that would
require World Wide Web sites to conform to the FTC's fair information practices,
meaning that they would have to provide consumers notice about, consent
for and access to information collected online, as well as ensure security
of that data.
Hollings is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which plans to
hold a hearing Thursday on the FTC's recommendation. All five FTC commissioners
are scheduled to testify and defend their 3-2 vote on Friday seeking regulation.
The FTC said self-regulation alone isn't protecting consumer online
privacy and that legislation is needed to "supplement self-regulatory efforts
and guarantee basic consumer protections."
In its survey of consumer Web sites, the FTC found that only 20 percent
of those Web sites had implemented all four fair information practices.
And among the 100 most popular U.S. commercial Web sites, only 42 percent
percent did so.
But critics say the survey isn't enough reason to change government
policy. The study is "way off base, it's way over broad," said Ronald Plesser,
an attorney at Piper, Marbury, Rudnick & Wolf LLP in Washington, D.C.,
which represents e-commerce companies. "It shows that the FTC is really
more interested in regulating then in really identifying and solving problems
former general counsel to the U.S. Privacy Protection Study Commission in
1977, said the FTC is seeking "extremely broad-based legislation" on a theoretical
analysis of the fair information practices without examining what is actually
going on in the marketplace. For instance, he said, some companies that
don't offer consumers a "choice" about sharing information with third parties
don't give the option because those companies don't share the data.
But Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a privacy watchdog
group in Greenbrook, N.J., said the FTC's conclusions about the state of
privacy "were really extremely reasonable and unassailable."
The FTC applied "very easy grades" to the Web sites it investigated,
he said. For instance, if a Web site offered any type of access, such as
allowing a consumer to update their e-mail address, the survey scored the
Web site as having access — "and the majority of them still flunked."
The survey is "is going to be a signal to legislators both in Congress
and the states to introduce legislation to protect privacy," said Catlett,
who is scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.
In calling for comprehensive privacy legislation, Hollings said in a
statement that his bill "will give consumers — not companies — control over
their personal information on the Internet. For many consumers, privacy
concerns represent the only remaining obstacle impeding their full embrace
of the Internet's ample commercial opportunities."