Lawmakers push privacy standard

Platform for Privacy Preferences Project

A group of House Democrats is urging federal agencies to adopt technology that automatically screens Web sites for violations of viewers' privacy preferences.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and four House colleagues want federal agencies to adopt Platform for Privacy Preferences Project, or P3P, standards for their Web sites.

P3P is a capability being built into some new Web browsers that enables users to determine how much information they are willing to share with organizations that run Web sites. If the site asks for more information than a user wants to give, a notice pops up on the computer screen to warn the user.

There is growing concern that companies are collecting personal information via Web sites and perhaps abusing that data, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers and other personal data.

P3P works by letting Web users fill out a list of privacy preferences and then automatically comparing users' choices with the privacy policies of the Web sites they visit. Where a user's privacy preferences are more restrictive than a Web site's practices, P3P gives an on-screen alert.

P3P was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, an organization that sets standards to promote the development and evolution of the Internet.

Smith, from Tacoma, introduced a resolution in the House June 7 urging government and commercial Web site operators to adopt P3P voluntarily. If they do, it will provide a way for Web users to control their personal information without Congress having to pass an "onerous regulation," he said.

Microsoft Corp., based in a neighboring congressional district, announced earlier this year that it will be including P3P in its new Web browser, Internet Explorer 6, which is now available in test version.

House members supporting Smith's P3P resolution are Reps. Calvin Dooley (D-Calif.), Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.). Smith and the other four announced that their congressional Web sites are the first in the House to be P3P-compliant.

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