This Week in Tech: FTC to release long-awaited privacy proposal


Advocates of tough privacy regulations argue that consumers will spend more money online if they feel secure about how their information will be used. But tough regulations could cut into the profits of such Web giants as Facebook and Google, which rely on targeted advertising to be able to offer their services for free.

The White House, with input from the FTC, announced its own “Privacy Bill of Rights” earlier this year. The blueprint stated that consumers should be able to control the data that organizations collect on them, and emphasized that privacy policies should be easy to understand. The administration urged companies to follow the guidelines and for Congress to enact the protections into law.

The FTC is an independent agency, and it is unclear how closely its report will follow the White House’s principles. The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade will examine the White House’s Privacy Bill of Rights on Thursday morning. An aide said representatives from the FTC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, trade associations and consumer groups are expected to testify.

When the White House announced its privacy principles, subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) called privacy a “critically important issue” but warned that “any rush to judgment could have a chilling effect on our economy and potentially damage, if not cripple, online innovation.” She said she hopes Congress learns from the mistakes of Europe, which has much tougher privacy regulations.

Bono Mack has been particularly critical of Google over the rollout of recent changes to its privacy policy. She has held multiple meetings with Google officials over the changes, which allow the company to track users across various services, such as Gmail and YouTube.

The House is expected to vote sometime next week on legislation that would slow the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to adopt new regulations. The bill would require the FCC to demonstrate the necessity of new regulations, codify the agency’s informal “shot clock” for its reviews and restrict the types of conditions the agency could impose on corporate mergers.

Supporters of the FCC bill say it would increase transparency and accountability, but Democratic critics claim it is an attempt to hamstring the agency.

The bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate. An aide for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said earlier this month that the panel has no plans to take up the legislation.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on cybersecurity and threats to communications networks Wednesday morning. Officials from the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Homeland Security Department will testify. A subcommittee working group is studying cybersecurity and is expected to issue a report on potential legislation.

Senate Democrats are moving a bill that would give the Homeland Security Department the power to require that critical systems meet basic security standards. A group of Senate Republicans is pushing an alternate proposal, the Secure IT Act, that focuses on voluntary information-sharing rather than new regulations.

An aide to Bono Mack said the congresswoman plans to introduce the Secure IT Act in the House on Monday or Tuesday. The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights is expected to mark up the Global Online Freedom Act on Tuesday. The bill would bar U.S. companies from exporting technologies that foreign governments could use to spy on their citizens’ Internet activities and would require companies to disclose their policies for censoring content in other countries.