UPDATE June 2014: We published this article in 2011. As of 2014, a universal online privacy law has yet to be passed.
Election season is once again upon us. Politicians are perfecting their stump speeches; focus groups are forming; pollsters are plotting; and staffers are polishing platforms which appeal to the greatest common denominator. So, it’s no surprise that privacy — a long-held ideal touted by the left, right, and middle — is taking center, talking-point stage.
Since February, no less than 7 elected representatives have submitted Internet privacy bills for review. Will one of them finally pass? After all, federal representatives has been trying to pass a universal privacy bill for nearly 15 years. They have yet to succeed.
Congressional Legislation Proposals
Reps. Ed Markey (D – MA) and Joe Barton (R – TX) are the latest congressional, bi-partisan duo to introduce an Internet privacy bill. Specific to issues surrounding the online collection of children’s data, Markey’s and Barton’s “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011” goes much further than the extant “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998” (COPPA).
In February, Reps. Jackie Speier (D – CA.) and Bobby Rush (D-IL.) each introduced digital privacy proposals. Speier’s “Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011” exempted government agencies and companies with less than 15,000 customers. Rush’s bill re-introduced his 2009 online privacy act. Unlike Speier’s proposal, Rush’s doesn’t include specific language about a do-not-track mechanism (largely because that terminology didn’t exist when he drafted the bill in 2009), but it does require companies to get consent from users if collected data is shared with third parties.
Senatorial Online Privacy Legislation Proposals
Sens. John Kerry (D – MA.) and John McCain (R – AZ.) are co-sponsors of the popular “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights”. Their proposal doesn’t specifically mention a do not track option, but it does address issues of data collection and pushes for stricter online security regulations. Sen. John D. Rockefeller’s (D – WV) “Do Not Track Online Act of 2011” is the most popular among privacy and consumer advocacy groups. “[The bill provides] crucial civil liberties protection for the 21st century,” explained Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU, when commenting on Rockefeller’s implicit do not track provision.
If Republicans and Democrats see Eye to Eye, Who’s in the Anti-Privacy Camp?
Evidenced by the number of bi-partisan online privacy proposals, Republicans and Democrats have obviously reached a workable consensus when it comes to protecting personally identifiable information. So the question remains: who is against passing stricter, universal online privacy laws? The answer lies in who benefits from collecting data about your lifestyle – marketing executives and online advertisers.
Companies that have goods and services to sell are actively lobbying for an end to the Government’s online privacy debate. Due to the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, behavioral targeting has become big business and online advertisers don’t want anybody messing with their revenue stream. Annually, billions of dollars are spent on targeted marketing campaigns – nearly all of which make use of personally identifiable data collected online.
Time will tell if we see a universal online privacy bill passed in the upcoming months; but if not, it certainly can’t be blamed on a lack of options!