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DBS privacy creeps up in online bills

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association is concerned about provisions in online-privacy bills that focus specifically on satellite subscriber information.

"We don't want to be put at a competitive disadvantage because we can't provide information," said Vice President of Government and Legal Affairs Andy Wright. Language in the bills might make it difficult to work with partners to offer broadband services, he said. "But we're not going to fight [the overall effort]. We're not opposed to the idea that consumers' personally identifiable information should be protected."

A bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month would require satellite TV carriers to notify subscribers annually about what kind of personal information is being collected. Wright says similar provisions are also in online-privacy bills sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.).

The Hatch-Schumer bill requires carriers to get written or electronic permission from subscribers before collecting any personal information or before disclosing it. Also, any subscriber could file a civil lawsuit against violators, with potential per-subscriber damages as high as $100 per day or $1,000 in toto, whichever is higher.

The 1984 Cable Act had already put cable operators under privacy laws.