Administration backs online privacy legislation for the first time

Strickling said he wants to see a "flexible" regime that protects consumers and ensures international interoperability. 

Privacy legislation is already underway in the Senate, including a promised bill from Communications subcommittee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE (D-Mass.), whose brother Cameron Kerry has also zeroed in on the issue in his counsel role at the Commerce Department. 

Testifying at the hearing, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said his agency is pushing for a Do-Not-Track system led by the private sector. He said privacy controls from Microsoft and Mozilla show this option is "viable."

"Consumers deserve meaningful and not illusory control over what companies can do with their personal information," he said. 

Some speakers made efforts not to vilify the online ad industry, which targets online ads to Web users according to preferences it gleans from their browsing habits. 

"I don't mind being given targeted ads," Leibowitz said. "I think there's a real benefit in that, but consumers should have a choice about whether they want to be tracked."

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillHillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger Senators introduce bipartisan bill to detect supply chain risks posing threats to national security Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families MORE (D-Mo.) raised concerns about what the cost would be "in terms of the economic vibrancy" of the Internet if tough strictures are passed. She warned of "unintended consequences."

Leibowitz said that "if consumers have more trust on the Internet, they are going to do more business on the Internet, as well."