Boucher Proposes Opt-In/Opt-Out Online Privacy Regime

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Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has released a discussion draft of his privacy legislation that combines and opt-in/opt-out regime for the collection of personal data for targetted marketing and advertising.

The bill would require Web users to opt in to collection of sensitive information relating to financial and medical information, sexual orientation, "precise geographic locations, or social security numbers. It would also mandate opt-in for sharing information with unaffiliated third parties, other than for an operational or transactional purpose, which users would have to opt out of.

The bill would allow the collection of other types of information about individuals unless they opt out, but it would require companies that collect personally identifiable information to conspicuously and clearly make that fact known so that users could opt out or in, depending on the type of info.

The "transactional" carve-out is for third-party ad networks that collect information from various Web sites in order to create profiles and target ads based on preferences. Boucher has said before that such tailored advertising can be beneficial.

"Opt-out consent would apply to sharing of an individual's information with a third-party ad network if there is a clear, easy-to-find link to a webpage for the ad network that allows a person to edit his or her profile and, if he chooses, to opt out of having a profile, provided that the ad network does not share the individual's information with anyone else," he said.

Boucher gave a shout-out to online ads in announcing the draft's release. "Online advertising supports much of the commercial content, applications and services that are available on the Internet today without charge, and this legislation will not disrupt this well established and successful business model. It simply extends to consumers important baseline privacy protections," he said.

The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with implementing and enforcing the online privacy rules, whith states also free to enforce those rules.

The bill would not require consent for use of transactional data -- Web logs and cookies -- or to use anonymized aggregate data to target users.

The bill has been one of Boucher's legislative priorities since he took over as chair of the House Communications Subcommittee.

While it is only a discussion draft, Boucher said that the bill "reflects broad areas of consensus among the Members who are circulating it today."

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