Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Major Tech Firms Back Rush's Privacy Bill

Attempting to address the U.S.’s dismal record on privacy. This is an important issue.

Thursday, October 7, 2010 1:59 PM

Three Major Tech Firms Back Rush's Privacy Bill

By Juliana Gruenwald

Three prominent tech companies have come out in support of privacy legislation offered by a key House lawmaker, saying the bill provides "the appropriate balance."

On Monday, Intel, eBay and Microsoft wrote Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, voicing support for his privacy legislation, which was introduced in July.

Specifically, the bill would allow websites and other firms covered by the bill to use online information collected about users but they must provide clear notice about what information is being collected and how it is used and an opportunity for consumers to opt out. The measure also would require that consumers opt-in to having their information disclosed to a third party. The bill would exempt firms from this opt-in provision if they participate in a "universal opt-out program" operated by self-regulatory groups and monitored by the FTC.

"We support the bill's overall framework, which is built upon the Fair Information Practices regime. We appreciate that the BEST PRACTICES Act is technology neutral and gives flexibility to the Federal Trade Commission to adapt to changes in technology," Intel's David A. Hoffman, Microsoft's Fred Humphries and eBay's Scott R. Shipman said in their letter. "The bill also strikes the appropriate balance by providing businesses with the opportunity to enter into a robust self-regulatory choice program."

They urged Rush, however, to remove a provision allowing consumers to sue companies for violating the bill's provisions, saying it would create "unnecessary litigation costs and uncertainty for businesses" while failing to protect consumer privacy.

"Despite their differing business models, eBay, Intel, Microsoft and other content providers must be free to execute business plans that will generate sufficient revenue in exchange for providing 'free' content and services. I am glad that these companies view the legislation my staff and I worked so hard to produce as a major step in the right direction," Rush said in a statement Thursday.

He added that he would continue to work with lawmakers from both parties and other stakeholders to move the bill in the next Congress if it doesn't pass this year.

During the November lame-duck session, Rush's subcommittee is expected to hold a hearing on his bill and examine the possibility of adding a provision calling for the creation of a "do-not-track list," which would allow consumers to opt out of having their Web activities tracked so that ads can be targeted at them, according to Tim Robinson, counsel to Rush's subcommittee.

"We just want to hear a little bit more about how it might work operationally," Robinson said in an interview. The panel will examine whether it "would it provide adequate relief to consumers who would like to limit tracking of their [activities] online."

Some industry officials, however, say such a list would be difficult to implement and that there are tools available to consumers today that give them some control over tracking technologies.

While voicing strong concerns with draft privacy legislation offered by Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., several privacy groups wrote Rush in August in support of many provisions in his bill. The groups, which included the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy and others, said while they would like to see some provisions strengthened, Rush's bill "significantly advances the movement towards a comprehensive privacy law based on the principles of fair information practices."

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