House privacy group talks with FTC

The House Commerce Privacy Working Group met with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials Tuesday as part of an ongoing series of meetings to examine online privacy that began last fall.

The group, led by co-chairmen Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), met with Democratic Commissioner Julie Brill and Republican Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen to discuss the agency's role in protecting online privacy. 

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In a prepared statement for the group, Brill outlined the ways in which the FTC gets involved in the online privacy space, including bringing charges against companies that fail to adequately protect consumer data from data breaches and companies that mislead consumers about their data collection and sharing practices.

The agency also issues best practices and holds public workshops on emerging digital privacy issues, such as its workshop earlier this year on retailers that track customers' smartphones as they move around a store. 

Brill said her agency "has a strong record of identifying emerging privacy and data security issues, collecting input from all stakeholders representing a variety of perspectives, and proceeding carefully to develop recommendations for policymakers and best practices for industry and consumers."

Speaking before the afternoon meeting with Brill and Ohlhausen, Welch said the meetings with tech companies and privacy advocates thus far have been educational for members. 

"This is a whole new world for Congress ... because technology is so innovative and racing ahead," he said. 

"We're doing something unusual around here. We're trying to educate ourselves."

Welch repeated the groups' statements from last year that the goal of the working group is not to draft and pass a piece of digital privacy legislation. 

Instead, members of the working group are considering "the proper role of Congress with respect to privacy and how do you address this without stifling innovation," he said. 

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