The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee

House Subcommittees Hold Hearing to Address Potential Privacy Legislation

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On November 19, 2009, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection and the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet conducted a hearing entitled "Exploring the Offline and Online Collection and Use of Consumer Information."  The hearing focused primarily on the collection, dissemination, and use of personal information from both online and offline sources, as well exploring privacy issues that should be addressed by future legislation.  Highlights of the hearing included:
  • Subcommittee members and witnesses discussed many facets of personal information use for marketing purposes, such as how consumer data is collected, the types of data that businesses collect, consumers’ ability to access his or her personal information held by marketers, and consumer education concerning privacy matters.
  • Participants discussed elements that could be addressed in future legislation included increasing transparency and choice, consumer education, and providing consumers with a clear statement of their rights–such as the ability to "opt in" and/or "opt out" of having personal data collected.  Witnesses, such as Chris Hoofnagle with the University of California, Berkley – School of Law, encouraged consumer education measures, noting that most consumers are unaware of their obligation to object to data collection practices with which they do not agree, and that many consumers assume that personal information collected by companies is secure–which may not always be the case. 
  • Many of the witnesses advocated privacy protection through a self-regulatory scheme, but Subcommittee members countered that self-regulation is ineffective at stopping "bad actors" and comprehensive legislation is necessary to protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses.
  • Finally, almost all of the witnesses stressed that legislation should be tailored to meet the needs of different types of businesses and industries, as well as creating different standards to regulate the offline versus online collection and use of personal information. 
In a separate interview, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Bobby Rush (D-IL), indicated that a draft privacy bill would not be circulated before the end of the year. 

Author: ABA Antitrust

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