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House Republicans Wary of New Laws, Regs on Privacy

House Republicans aren't convinced that tougher laws and new regulations are the best way to relieve consumer concerns about online privacy.

That observation, and other caveats aimed at a number of bills being floated to boost consumer control and government oversight of online information sharing, comes in an internal majority staff memo in advance of a July 14 House Energy & Commerce Committee join subcommittee hearing on "Internet Privacy: The Views of the FTC, the FCC, and NTIA."

Sharing their views will be witnesses FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Lawrence Strickling and Federal Trade Commission member Edith Ramirez.

In the memo, the Republican majority staff points out that information is the "currency" of the 'net and that it is the "cost" they pay "under most business models" for getting free services and content. They argue that the problem is not knowing how the information is going to be used. "While surveys indicate that consumers harbor concerns about privacy, it is unproven whether more stringent laws and regulations on the collection and use of data will ameliorate these concerns in a manner that encourages innovation and electronic commerce," the memo says.

The memo also points to ongoing industry self-regulatory efforts.

As the memo also points out, cable operators are already disallowed from sharing personally identifiable information collected over their cable nets without getting prior consent from subscribers and to notify subs about those data-collection practices. And now, says the memo, the FCC is asserting its authority over cable in its role as ISP. Since the FCC's National Broadband Plan found that lack of online privacy was a deterrent to broadband adoption, the staffers see the potential for FCC online privacy regulation in service of that broadband goal, which is driving much of the commission's efforts in various areas.

"The FCC has also recently claimed in its "network neutrality" decision and other rulings that it has authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to regulate Internet-related services to promote broadband. If upheld, this claim could allow the FCC to adopt rules regarding Internet privacy."