Lawmakers join FTC in calling for online privacy legislation

ADVERTISEMENT
The report also recommended that Congress require companies to meet minimum security standards for how they handle sensitive data, and said lawmakers should require companies to notify their customers in the event of a data breach.

“Today’s report from the FTC again underscores the need for action from Congress,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said. He urged Congress to take up the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a bill he introduced with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year.

"This discussion is taking place at home and abroad, and we’d be wise to act now rather than defer decisions until future Congresses,” Kerry said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said Congress should "seriously consider" the recommendation to enact privacy regulations.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urged the Senate to take up his Personal Data Privacy and Security Act. The Judiciary Committee approved his bill in September, but it has not come up for a vote in the full Senate.

"Today’s FTC report highlights the need for Congress to finally enact this necessary legislation,” Leahy said.

The FTC also outlined voluntary standards that companies should adopt to protect users' privacy. The standards do not apply to small businesses that handle non-sensitive data of less than 5,000 consumers per year.

The FTC said it would work with Web browsers and advertising agencies to implement a "Do Not Track" button that would allow users to opt-out of online tracking.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said he expects the button to be available by the end of the year and said legislation is not required.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) vowed to push ahead with their Do Not Track Kids Act, which would restrict online marketing to children and create an “Eraser Button” for parents to delete information that companies gather about their children.

"As in our legislation, the Commission appropriately highlights the importance of providing teens with clear information about how their personal data is used so they can be empowered to exercise control over these uses," Markey said. "We must ensure that this new age of ‘Big Data’ doesn’t become one of 'Big Danger' for children and teens and that the strongest privacy protections are in place for families."

Barton said voluntary guidelines won't be enough to protect consumers' privacy.

"While the FTC makes good recommendations to businesses, it is important to remember they are not law. These recommendations are not enforceable, which is why I loudly echo the FTC’s call for privacy legislation. It is not until a law is passed that all companies will truly abide by consumer protection policies," Barton said.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, said the congresswoman will reserve judgment on the report until she has a chance to speak with FTC officials and other stakeholders at a privacy hearing on Thursday.

"Chairman Bono Mack is encouraged, however, that the FTC has recognized the need to avoid any new undue burdens on small companies," Johnson said.