I’m just back from a sweltering week in Washington, DC, convinced
that those of us who care about protecting consumers’ online privacy
have reason for optimism. There is growing interest in creating a "Do
Not Track Me" list and mechanism to implement it.
Sure, it could be that the 95-degree-plus temperatures coupled with
humidity nearly as high fried my brain, but I don’t think so. My
analysis is based on meetings with Congressional, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission staff members, as well as others who follow the issue closely.
Congress is clearly beginning to focus on online privacy. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-VA, has been circulating a draft bill for discussion. His colleague, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-IL, has introduced an online privacy bill.
Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Jay Rockefeller, D-WV,
just held hearings on the subject. Those sessions seemed to draw more
than token attention from members, perhaps because of the Wall Street Journal’s series "What They Know" that has revealed in great detail just how much of our activity on the Web is monitored by online companies like Google.
At that Senate hearing, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz mentioned the possibility of a "Do Not Track" function.
Why I’m encouraged after last week is that the idea — something that
would be to analogous the tremendously popular and successful "Do Not
Call" list run by the FTC — is more than just talk. There is action.
Indeed, one reason I was in Washington was to join representatives of
organizations like USPIRG, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of
America and Consumer Action, to meet with staff members for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-AR.
They are gathering information because the senator is considering the
possibility of introducing a "Do Not Track Me" bill this fall.
A knowledgeable FTC staff member confirmed that the staff is working
on how Do Not Track could be implemented. And a meeting with a key FCC
aide left me convinced that the commission is putting new emphasis on
consumer privacy. Recall that at the Senate hearing Chairman Jules
Genachowski testified that the FCC and the FTC have formed a joint task
force to develop "effective and coordinated approaches to protecting
With the election rapidly approaching can meaningful comprehensive
online privacy legislation be passed before the end of the year? That’s
But a significant step forward — simple "Do Not Track" legislation
— that would authorize the FTC to administer a list and implement the
mechanism is completely doable.
"Do Not Call" is tremendously popular. People understand it. It’s the same with "Do Not Track." Our recent national poll shows 80% support. I think it has a good chance of winning bipartisan support.
It will take awhile to get comprehensive privacy legislation through
Congress, but based on what I saw and heard in Washington last week the
time for "Do Not Track" has come and momentum is growing.
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