Byline: Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — An Internet privacy protection bill that may serve as a model for the 107th Congress was introduced in the House of Representatives on Saturday, one that would require Web sites to inform users how personal data will be used and allow visitors to limit its use.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), co-sponsor of the Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act with Rep. Chris Cannon (R., Utah), said in a statement: “As legislators, we have a dual challenge: to protect consumer privacy without impeding the free flow of information through the Internet. This legislation achieves that goal. The bill doesn’t regulate the Internet; it empowers the consumer.”
The bill mirrors similar bipartisan legislation introduced last year in the Senate by Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry. The Cannon-Eshoo bill, like the McCain-Kerry bill, constitutes a less restrictive form of privacy protection known as opt-out, which requires Web sites to inform users what they are doing with their data but places no restrictions on the use of that data. Users, however, can opt out of data-collection attempts. Many consumer advocates and privacy watchdogs favor another system of privacy protection known as opt-in, which would not allow a Web site to solicit or use data without explicit permission from the user.
These same groups also favor legislation allowing consumers to directly sue Web sites that violate their privacy, rather than relying on the Federal Trade Commission to handle their complaints. When retailer went bankrupt last summer and attempted to sell its customer database as part of bankruptcy proceedings, consumers had to rely on FTC intervention to prevent their personal information from being sold to a third party. The FTC eventually blocked the sale of Toysmart’s database. The Cannon-Eshoo bill does not include a provision on this issue, but does provide the FTC with increased penalty authority.
The House bill is considered a first draft for Congressional debate in the complex and contentious field of Internet privacy. “We don’t see the legislation we have as the ending point,” said Jeff Hartley, spokesman for Rep. Cannon. “We want all interested parties to weigh in on this.”

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