State bills push tech firms toward feds

Fearing a slew of privacy bills from state governments, a group of high-tech giants are signaling that they might be amenable to new federal legislation if given a big enough stake in the process.

Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., and EMC Corp. are among companies getting out front on this new stance, which represents a dramatic reversal of industry's determination to avoid new legislation at all costs.

"Our view is that a new law worded correctly, that offers consumers choice and control over the information used about them" would not be a bad idea, said Michael Maibach, Intel's vice president of governmental affairs.

But not everyone is aboard the bandwagon yet. "We hear that there are some who are ready to jump into bed with the regulators — who feel they must do something," said Orson Swindle, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, speaking at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's technology policy conference in Aspen, Colo., this week. "My words of wisdom are `Don't yield on this right now.' "

Privacy advocates and others are increasingly invoking the threat of multiple-state privacy bills to swing industry opinion in the direction of federal legislation.

"The reason this industry is going to need self-regulation is to protect you from government. When states get more involved, it could be death by 50 cuts," said Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and others agreed that the landscape could become more clouded with state privacy legislation — now cooking in California and several other states — that would bog down federal legislation efforts.

Hutchinson and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) have backed a bill that would establish a commission to examine the privacy issue before federal legislation could be passed.

Copyright 2000 InfoWorld, International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved. Distributed by IDG News Service.

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