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    New York Times: F.T.C. and White House Push for Online Privacy Laws

    Recently, the Federal Trade Commission and the Obama administration (pdf) released reports about the need for privacy protections for people for the data created when they spend time online. Yesterday, there was a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, “The Need for Privacy Protections: Perspectives from the Administration and the Federal Trade Commission” (archived Web cast and witness statements are here). The New York Times reports:

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and the nation’s chief privacy regulator pressed Congress on Wednesday to enact online privacy legislation, saying new laws would level the playing field between companies that already had privacy policies and those that lacked them, and thus escape regulatory oversight.

    Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces limited Internet privacy laws, and Cameron F. Kerry, general counsel for the Commerce Department, said at a hearing of the Senate commerce committee that writing new laws and giving the F.T.C. the power to enforce them with civil penalties would promote Internet commerce by increasing the trust that Americans put in online transactions.

    Currently, the F.T.C. monitors whether Internet companies that have privacy policies keep their promises to consumers about when and where they will share personal information. But the commission lacks the authority to assess penalties for most transgressions, and it has little authority over how companies operate when they have no written privacy rules. [...]

    Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the committee, also expressed his support for “strong consumer-focused privacy legislation this year,” according to prepared remarks. [...]

    Privacy concerns have come to the fore as consumers grow increasingly aware of just how closely their actions online are tracked. Individual Web sites or e-mail programs can follow users long after they leave a particular page on the Web, and in many cases use that information to display specific ads to the user. Sometimes, companies also sell the information to third parties. [...]

    Mr. Leibowitz, the F.T.C. chairman, said he was against the creation of a centralized database of Internet users who request not to be tracked, as has been done with “Do Not Call” telephone lists. That could cause privacy concerns itself, he said.

    While praising the efforts of retailing, advertising and technology companies to establish a “Do Not Track” mechanism, he also called on the industries to do more than simply block targeted ads. They should also address the collection of information by Web sites for other purposes, he said.

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