Barton: FTC Privacy Report Is Helpful, But Legislation is Necessary

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Reaction continued to pour in Monday after the Federal Trade Commission released its final report on online privacy.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said the report was as good as far as it went, but said that privacy legislation -- he is a co-sponsor, with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) of Kids Do Not Track legislation -- is still needed.

"While the FTC makes good recommendations to businesses, it is important to remember they are not law," Barton said in a statement. "These recommendations are not enforceable, which is why I loudly echo the FTC's call for privacy legislation. It is not until a law is passed that all companies will truly abide by consumer protection policies."

Some 90% of online advertisers have agreed to a voluntary, browser-based do not track regime endorsed by the White House. Violators of that pledge could be subject to FTC action based on its authority over deceptive practices. It is less clear how to deal with however many of the other 10% choose not to take the pledge, although FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz indicated Monday he thought they would follow suit.

Another fan of privacy legislation, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said the committee would take the FTC's recommendations seriously. "This report encourages Congress to pass legislation to promote consumer online privacy protection, and I think that's a recommendation the Committee needs to seriously consider," he said. "I also agree with the FTC's conclusion that online companies need to do a better job of honoring consumer requests when they make a ˜do-not-track' request on their Internet browsers. Those companies said they'd do that, and they need to make good."

Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union, called it a good report, especially its recognition that "we need better tools and information to decide how our personal information is used." She was also pleased with the recommendation for baseline privacy legislation. "There are a lot of good initiatives in play that could help protect consumers' privacy, but ideally, we need a law to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules."

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz made the same point in arguing for Congress leveling the playing field with some "rules of the road."

USTelecom said it was still studying the report, but like what it saw so far. "We support the general principles outlined in the framework for increasing consumer privacy protections," said US Telecom senior vice Jonathan Banks. "As an industry with long experience and a deep commitment to providing consumers the highest levels of data privacy protections, we believe all companies should work cooperatively to assure Americans that their personal information is carefully safeguarded. Following on the heels of the Commerce Department's recent white paper on privacy, today's report takes another positive step toward building a system that provides workable privacy protections for consumers."

But not everyone was rolling out the red carpet.

"The FTC's recommendations to protect consumer privacy by imposing new reporting requirements on businesses, restricting online advertising, and stifling innovation in the mobile market are misguided," said Information Technology & Innovation Foundation senior analyst Daniel Castro. "The new report shows the FTC still does not understand the fundamental economics of the Internet."

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