U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns introduced the Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2011 yesterday, adding more fuel to the online privacy debate. Stearns, a Florida Republican, submitted the bill to the House of Representatives one day after Senators John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, introduced privacy legislation in the Senate.
The Stearns bill would require web sites to clearly state what personally identifiable information is being collected and how it is used. “The statement must be brief, concise, clear and conspicuous and written in plain language,” the bill states. If a consumer opts out from having his information collected, the opt-out lasts for five years unless the consumer changes his mind before then. Stearns’ privacy bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat from Utah.
The bill also leaves the door open to industry self-regulation, provided a self-regulatory effort meets the standards put forth in the bill and is approved by the Federal Trade Commission. The bill would require the FTC to presume a company is in compliance if it participates in an approved self-regulatory program.
The Direct Marketing Association, an ad industry trade group, voiced concern over the legislation and asserted that the industry’s self-regulatory efforts already require some of what the bill asks for, such as requiring marketers to provide consumers with adequate and timely notice and the choice to opt out of having their information used. The group also says the bill gives the FTC too much authority over self-regulatory efforts. “It is not necessary or appropriate to give the FTC authority to regulate self-regulatory programs or to review corporate privacy policies,” the group says.
The Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2011 bill joins another House bill introduced in February by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California that also targets privacy issues. Speier’s Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011 directs the FTC to develop a “do not track” mechanism that allows consumers to opt out of having their data collected, used or sold. The California State Legislature also is considering a bill at the state level that would give consumers more control over how their online behavior is tracked and shared with marketers and retailers.