Sens. John Kerry and John McCain proposed online privacy legislation Tuesday that for the first time would give web users the right to demand they not be tracked in cyberspace.
Still, the measure was met with resistance from privacy advocates who said the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011 did not go far enough.
The bipartisan legislation would allow consumers to demand particular websites stop tracking and selling their online behavior. As it now stands, internet surfers are bound by lengthy and often hidden terms-of-service agreements by which a company dictates how one’s surfing habits and data will be used.
Kerry, a Democrat of Massachusetts, told a news conference that Americans’ online activity is being tracked, stored and shared “on an almost unimaginable scale.”
Kerry added that internet companies “can do virtually anything they want with our information and we have no legal way to make them stop.”
The measure does not prohibit online companies from producing and selling cyber dossiers on consumers. Instead, the bill requires consumers to take a proactive step and demand it be stopped — likely by finding links on websites and on ads to opt out.
“We think that’s a very cumbersome process for consumers,” Christopher Calabrese, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a telephone interview.
McCain, a Republican from Arizona, conceded the bill was a compromise.
“Our bill seeks to respect the ability of businesses to advertise, market and recruit new customers while also respecting consumers’ personal information.
He said some American’s “enjoy” targeted online advertising.
The ACLU and others would prefer what is being touted as a “universal opt out” in which consumers could one-stop shop and end all tracking via a national registry of sorts. The Federal Trade Commission suggested such legislation in December.
“Consumers need strong baseline safeguards to protect them from the sophisticated data profiling and targeting practices that are now rampant online and with mobile devices. We cannot support the bill at this time,” Consumer Watchdog, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times wrote McCain and Kerry on Tuesday.
They complained that the measure prohibits the states from implementing even stricter measures, and would place its enforcement under the auspices of the Department of Commerce. Gary Locke, the commerce secretary, said the office was reviewing the legislation, and looks “forward to working with Congress.”
Here is a stream of Tuesday’s news conference with Kerry and McCain.