Panel Ponders Privacy
Glanz, William, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
A House panel yesterday expressed support for privacy legislation that protects the personal information of Internet users.
But while Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee, said privacy is the panel's highest priority, no consensus on where to begin emerged.
The subcommittee said a privacy bill must strike a balance that addresses the "dirty secret" that privacy can be good for businesses and that sharing personal information can benefit consumers.
With consumers increasingly alarmed about giving personal information to Web sites, lawmakers warned against ignoring cries for privacy laws.
"Punting might be good in football, but this committee is finished punting," said Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Congress didn't pass Internet privacy legislation last year. This year, six bills have been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee since Jan. 3. Others have been referred to separate House and Senate panels. Nearly 30 bills affecting Internet privacy were introduced last year.
Separately, the Congressional Privacy Caucus headed by Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, called a hearing yesterday to focus attention on Web bugs. The bugs enable Web sites to snoop on Internet users by copying lists of files and e-mail address lists on a person's computer and sending them to the site that planted the bug.
The lack of legislative action last year by Congress is significant because it has allowed Internet companies to regulate themselves, but that hasn't worked as well as it could, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said during yesterday's hearing.
"I think they have made a good-faith effort. …