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Kerry And McCain Unveil Online Privacy Bill

April 13, 2011

An online privacy ‘Bill of Rights’ was introduced Tuesday by US Senators John Kerry and John McCain that looks to bring balance between protecting personal information on the Web and the needs of businesses to conduct e-commerce.

They said bipartisan legislation would require companies gathering data to allow consumers to “opt-out” of having personal info collected.

“Protecting Americans’ personal, private information is vital to making the Information Age everything it should be,” said Kerry, D-Massachusetts.

“Americans have a right to decide how their information is collected, used, and distributed and businesses deserve the certainty that comes with clear guidelines,” said Kerry, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.

The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011 “makes fair information practices the rules of the road, gives Americans the assurance that their personal information is secure, and allows our information driven economy to continue to thrive in today’s global market,” he said.

“Consumers want to shop, browse and share information in an environment that is respectful of their personal information,” said McCain, R-Arizona. “Our legislation sets forth a framework for companies to create such an environment and allows businesses to continue to market and advertise to all consumers, including potential customers.”

“However, the bill does not allow for the collection and sharing of private data by businesses that have no relationship to the consumer for purposes other than advertising and marketing,” he said. “It is this practice that American consumers reject as an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

The Federal Trade Commission and state attorney generals would be utilized to enforce provisions of the bill and put a cap on fines and violations.

Advocates for digital rights had mixed emotions about the legislation.

A coalition of consumer groups and privacy advocates welcomed the effort but said in a letter to the senators that the bill needs to be “significantly strengthened if it is to effectively protect consumer privacy rights in today’s digital marketplace.”

“Consumers need strong baseline safeguards to protect them from the sophisticated data profiling and targeting practices that are now rampant online and with mobile devices,” the coalition told AFP.

“We cannot support the bill at this time,” said the letter signed by the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times.

But Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Consumer Privacy Project, said the legislation is “an important step toward the enactment of a comprehensive privacy law for this country.”

“With the proliferation of tracking technologies in recent years, consumers need basic protections to allow them to see how their data is being used, and to give them control over their own information,” he said.

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