House Bill Would Guard Internet Privacy

Article excerpt

Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin introduced legislation yesterday that would strengthen consumer privacy on the Internet and make it easier for consumers to block personal information from being sold.

The bill would prohibit the sale of Social Security numbers and medical information on the Internet without a user's consent, said Mr. Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee. Internet service providers would have to inform users, if they ask, about what information is collected from them and make it easy for them to block its collection.

The measure also would make it easier for parents to protect their children on line. It would require companies collecting information from children to notify them that their parents' consent is necessary and would allow parents to have such information deleted.

"Studies show that potential consumers are wary of using the Internet for commercial purposes because they are not confident that personal information, once provided to a Web site, will remain private," Mr. Tauzin said.

Internet users have been outspoken about protecting their privacy.

An outcry last week by some of America Online's 8.5 million subscribers about the Sterling, Va.-based company's decision to sell its subscribers' home phone numbers to telemarketers forced AOL to relent.

"Upon further reflection, we decided to change our plans," said Steve Case, AOL's chief executive.

Mr. Tauzin's legislation would make the computer industry responsible for developing guidelines for protecting consumer privacy within six months of the bill's enactment. An implicit threat is that Congress could pass privacy laws if industry safeguards proved inadequate.

"Why does Congress have to make a bill to create voluntary guidelines? …