Online Privacy Bill Roundup

online privacy law attorneyUPDATE June 2014: We published this article in 2011. As of 2014, a universal online privacy law has yet to be passed.

*****Original Article*****

Election season is once again upon us and politicians are in the process of perfecting their talking-points. Focus groups are being formed, polls are being plotted, and staffers are polishing platforms which appeal to the greatest common denominator.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that privacy — a long-held national ideal touted by the left, right and middle — is shaping up to be a hot issue this election cycle.

Since February, no less than 7 elected representatives have submitted Internet privacy bills for review. Which makes you kinda wonder: is anyone on Capitol Hill working on anything else!? Slightly more alarming: the Federal Government has been trying to pass a universal privacy bill for nearly 15 years and has yet to succeed. At this rate, by the time an act is passed, technology advancements will render the regulations useless.

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 already existent “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 was a re-introduction of his 2009 online privacy act. Unlike Speier’s proposal, Rush’s does not 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 a 3rd party.

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!

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