Congress ponders 'Net privacy

ITworld.com |  Business

Members of the Congressional Internet Caucus told a House subcommittee Wednesday
that U.S. lawmakers should avoid strict Internet privacy rules, which are said to be
favored in Europe, and instead employ a set of "baseline standards." At the hearings,
several speakers pointed to recent indications that the federal government was not
abiding by th same privacy guidelines that have been suggested for commercial Web
sites.

"We must be careful that we don't micromanage as the Europeans have done," said
Internet Caucus Co-Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., in calling for adherence to baseline
standards on privacy.

Goodlatte said the Internet privacy debate is complex, because corporations have
historically relied on consumer data as part of their business activity. He noted too
that the use of consumer information by businesses could be useful to consumers.

"Legislation on this matter must be considered carefully," Goodlatte said.

While further legislation in this area is not expected this year, according to W.J.
Billy Tauzin, R-Louisiana, the subcommittee will continue efforts to ensure that both
the federal government and the private sector will "honor the rights of private
citizens."

The contention that federal Web sites fail to adhere to important Web privacy
guidelines is based on conclusions garnered from a recent report by the General
Accounting Office (GAO.)

The report, released last month, was requested by Reps. Dick Armey, R-Texas, the
House Majority Leader, and Tauzin, to determine how federal Web sites would fare when
measured against the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) fair information guidelines. In
May, the FTC asked Congress to enact legislation required adherence to the FTC's four
fair information practices, after reporting that only 20 percent of the busiest
commercial Web sites meet the criteria for all four practices.

The government "does not practice what it preaches," Rep. Tauzin stated at
Wednesday's subcommittee meeting.

The study Tauzin cited found that only three percent of federal Web sites contained
elements of all four of the FTC's guidelines. These guidelines include: Notice, which
requires data collectors disclose their information practices; Choice, which requires
that consumers be given options as to whether and how personal information is collected
from them; Access, which ensures consumers be able to view and contest the accuracy of
data collected about them; and, Security, which requires that data collectors ensure
that information collected from consumers is accurate and secure from unauthorized use.

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