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Another U.S. Senator Proposes an Internet Privacy Bill

23 May 2000

Web sites that collect and use personal consumer data would be required to gain those consumers' consent under a new privacy bill introduced Monday by Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, Democrat-South Carolina.

Hollings' bill - the Consumer Privacy Protection Act - has the ambitious goal not only of requiring consumer consent for information use, but it also offers "limited protections in the offline world" for "video rental (style) protection to books and recorded music," said a Hollings spokesman.

The bill's introduction comes as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to visit the Commerce Committee Thursday to outline its proposal for asking Congress to give the agency broader power to regulate online privacy.

"He's putting in good privacy protections while still recognizing some of the efforts going on in industry (to self-regulate)," said spokesman Andy Davis.

Hollings picked up the support of eight committee members, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, for an all-Democratic lineup.

In addition to requiring "opt-in" consent, the bill also calls for Web sites to clearly display their privacy policies, access to identifiable information and the ability to modify it, and specific procedures for data protection.

"The industry's recent efforts, the states' attempts to address privacy, and the overwhelming consumer demand for protections, all demonstrate that something needs to be done," Hollings said in a statement. "We believe that this legislation strikes a balance between asserting the appropriate federal role while recognizing the efforts of the industry."

The bill also calls on the FTC to undertake further privacy studies and offer more recommendations on improving privacy. The measure also would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to launch a research and development program on computer security issues that would "complement private sector research."

Hollings' bill joins a growing list of legislation tackling online privacy, as well as financial and medical data protection.

Now that the FTC formally has called for more legislation, several Republican members, along with Virginia Democrat James Moran, are asking Congress to slow down the push for privacy legislation, saying that the issue should be studied in more deliberate detail, and that current laws should be better enforced.

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