Republicans warn privacy push could lead to 'big government rules of the road'

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said the administration has put forward privacy proposals that would result in "a massive expansion of government … that would put some limits on our individual liberties." 

"[W]hen you follow the European privacy model and take information out of the information economy … you lose out to innovators who choose to work elsewhere," Blackburn said. 

Obama administration officials defended the White House’s blueprint for privacy standards at the subcommittee hearing, arguing action is needed to ensure that consumers don’t shy away from doing business online.

But Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, warned that the "lightning-fast development" of technology brings about new issues that legislators might not understand. 

"I am highly skeptical of Congress's ability to keep up with the vibrant pace [of technology] … without breaking it," he said, adding that companies have a "strong incentive" to protect their users.

“It's called consumer choice," he said. 

Bono Mack, the chairwoman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade subcommittee, also expressed doubts about the tech industry’s efforts at self-regulation, such as the “Do Not Track” button for Web browsers that will allow users to opt out of online tracking.

"I don’t believe industry is doing enough on its own to protect American consumers," she said.

But the chairwoman said legislative action might not be the answer.

"No one is beating down my door about … privacy issues," she said. 

Subcommittee ranking member G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he supports industry efforts to "keep privacy at the forefront," calling data security and transparency "good business practice." But he said Congress must do its part. 

"We need to enact a comprehensive … and balanced federal privacy law," he said. "We must act now. "

Lawrence Strickling, the chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), defended the White House’s privacy framework, saying it “strikes the right balance" between letting businesses innovate and protecting consumers. 

He said the White House’s privacy bill of rights strikes that balance by deliberately avoiding top-down regulation. Instead, the administration asked the NTIA to partner with industry to develop "legally enforceable codes of conduct.” Strickling pledged his agency will "not substitute our judgment for consensus." 

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who also appeared at the hearing, said the White House proposal is a "decisive moment for consumer privacy." 

Data collection is an important business tool and should be allowed to continue, he said, "but not at the expense of personal privacy."

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