Commerce To Recommend Privacy Legislation

The Obama administration has decided to recommend privacy legislation.

That is according to the testimony of National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Lawrence Strickling. NTIA is the administration's chief communications policy adviser.

The Commerce Department released a Green Paper three months ago, and after reviewing comments, Strickling told a Senate Communications Subcommittee hearing ("The State of Online Consumer Privacy") audience Wednesday that Commerce (which oversees NTIA) "has concluded that the U.S. consumer data privacy framework will benefit from legislation to establish a clearer set of rules for the road for businesses and consumers."

At the hearing. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that he would be introducing a bill to create a privacy Bill of Rights.

Both the Commerce Department and the Federal Trade Commission have been studying the issue and encouraging self-regulation, while suggesting Congressional action might be needed as a backstop.

In testimony before the committee, Strickling said one of the issues was the increasing use of smaller, mobile video screen, where disclosures could become more problematic and location-based information raises new privacy issues.

"The Administration urges Congress to enact a "consumer privacy bill of rights" to provide baseline consumer data privacy protections," said Strickling. They should be enforceable by the FTC, with an opportunity of a safe harbor for companies who sufficiently self-regulate.

Strickling also suggested limitations on the legislation, including that it not add "duplicative or overly burdensome regulatory requirements," should be "technology neutral" and reduced burdens for companies already facing "numerous foreign privacy laws."

With or without legislation, says Strickling, NTIA will bring stakeholders together to encourage them to come up with privacy codes of conduct.

Strickling was preaching to the choir on the need for stronger privacy protections. It is one of the key issues for Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), particularly as it pertains to protecting kids online. Rockefeller was unable to attend the hearing, but Kerry shares that keen interest in privacy.

Strickling emphasized that the goal was to provide a framework in which industruy could fill in the details, rather than have government impose restrictive regulations.

Kerry echoed that sentiment, saying his goal was to do no harm while at the same time protecting privacy and, ad the end of the day, to have all stakeholders can "stand up and say this is good."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.