Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., plans to pick up where he and former Rep.Rick Boucher, D-Va., left off in the last Congress in trying to craft an online privacy bill.
Stearns is reworking the draft bill he helped develop with Boucher, who was defeated in November, to address concerns raised about the measure in comments provided to the lawmakers last year. "Rep. Stearns has taken those comments and is working with stakeholders on developing legislation that he plans to offer soon," a Stearns spokesman said.
Boucher served as the chairman and Stearns was the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee in the last Congress. With the GOP takeover of the House, Stearns chairs the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
The draft Boucher-Stearns bill would have required websites to inform users how they collect and use personally identifiable information. Under the bill, consumers, for the most part, would have to opt out of having such information collected, although it would mandate that users opt in before websites could collect sensitive information such as financial and health data or share personally identifiable data with some third parties. Third-party ad networks would be exempt from the opt-in requirement as long as they adhere to certain guidelines.
That bill was criticized by industry officials, who said it was too prescriptive and could hamper the current system of ad-supported free content on the Web. Privacy advocates said that the measure did not go far
enough to protect consumer privacy online.
Still, privacy advocates welcomed news that Stearns plans to take up the issue in the 112th Congress. "It gets the conversation going," Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester said.
Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson said that Stearns's effort "shows that protecting online privacy is a bipartisan issue that resonates on both sides of the aisle. Privacy may be one of the areas where Congress can get something done this session."
Simpson said he would like to see language in the bill that establishes a "do-not-track" mechanism, which would allow consumers to opt out of having their Web activities tracked for advertising, and that gives the Federal Trade Commission the "necessary authority to implement and fully enforce this basic means of protecting consumers' online privacy."
Several other lawmakers have indicated they also plan to offer privacy legislation this year, including Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., who is working on a bill aimed at ensuring that children are not tracked on the Web.
Rush, who is vying to become the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee, introduced a privacy bill last summer and held a hearing during the lame-duck session in December on whether to include language to establish a do-not-track system in the bill when he reintroduces it in the 112th Congress.