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Blackburn Urges Tech Industry Action to Head Off Potential Government Overregulation

"Empower consumers before government empowers itself." That was the message from Rep. Marsha Blackburn to tech companies at a town hall roundtable at the University of Santa Clara School of Law. That and place online privacy and data security squarely under the jurisdiction of the FTC rather than dividing it up between that agency and the FCC.

Blackburn said that consumer trust in online information collection and data management has eroded, that consumer confidence has reached a "tipping point" and that industry must take the lead in addressing those concerns or that uncertainty would "suffocate growth and innovation" and leave a vacuum that would be filled by government solutions.

Those solutions, she said, would be driven by the political left as "hyper-regulation from a menu of agencies, or from a classical liberalism perspective that defines private information as property," but in either case driven by headlines and activists, not "careful consideration of the facts."

"For the online world to continue to thrive, we need real leadership that answers consumers cry for help, not just a typical ploy that gives off a false sense of security and a free credit report," she said. "That's why we need industry leaders to move swiftly to find a workable solution to the challenges online consumers face. We need to give them a 'credible level of transparency' and at least 'a fighting chance' to protect their sensitive data. We must do this if we hope to sustain a healthy and thriving creative economy."

Blackburn, one of the strongest opponents of the FCC's network neutrality rules, pointed to that as an example of the kind of regulation by headline that she wanted to avoid. "The FCC's so-called 'net neutrality' decision was a hyper-reactive, counterproductive example of what happens when government thinks it finds a problem it feels the urgent need to fix," she told her audience. Blackburn has recently renewed her call on Congress to block the regs, prompted by the fact that they go into effect Nov. 20.

Given her less-than-glowing view of the FCC, it is no surprise she also stumped for getting the commission out of the business of online security and privacy altogether.

"The FTC has the experience and expertise in this arena, and therefore should have full jurisdiction and control," she said. "The FCC has proven too often that its presumed existential mission is to identify 'potential harm' to market competition in order to further consolidate power, usually without clear evidence or reason. That's not a good foundation for a workable privacy regime."

She also stumped for self-regulation, regulatory flexibility, and a "conservative vision to these issues [that] assumes the imperfection of mankind and a preference for markets -- not politics -- to drive outcomes."

The administration and the FTC are both in the process of hammering out proposals and/or blueprints for better protecting online privacy and data security in a digital world. Both have suggested they prefer self-regulation but that legislation may be needed as a backstop.