Civil Liberties, Consumer Groups Propose Privacy Framework

A coalition of civil liberties, labor and consumer rights groups Monday published a proposed “framework” for privacy protection legislation, encouraging national lawmakers to adopt a stronger stance on consumer protection on the Internet.

The group’s membership includes associations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, the American Library Association and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

The “Privacy Pledge,” which the coalition is asking Congress to accept, cites the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment — that is, right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure — to support “a privacy framework to safeguard the rights of Americans in this information age.”

The proposed framework calls for laws taking into account the rights to fair notice, consent, security, access, correction, use limitations and redress — all basically called for in the Federal Trade Commission’s May 2000 report to Congress on Internet privacy.

The Pledge also calls for independent enforcement and oversight; promotion of technologies that limit the collection of personal information; and unspecified legal restrictions on surveillance technologies — some of which are used or are proposed by Internet marketers, such as location-based tracking and profiling.

Additionally, it encourages “a solid foundation of federal privacy safeguards that permit the private sector and states to implement supplementary protections as needed.”

Earlier this month, the co-chairs of the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Privacy Caucus said they would work to make Internet privacy a major focus of the 107th Congress. The CPC is set to discuss one form of Internet monitoring — so-called “Web bugs,” invisible Web and e-mail graphics that assist in profiling — early next month.

While there appears to be a willingness on the part of some legislators to consider Internet privacy issues, other groups contend that business needs privacy monitoring less than does the government itself.

“Government is the biggest threat to privacy,” said Jim Harper, who operates, a site devoted to “laissez-faire” privacy and market controls. Harper criticizes the Pledge’s invitation for Fourth Amendment-style limitations on citizens and businesses — since he believes privacy already is protected in the private sector by existing laws (like contract law) and educated consumerism.

“There is certainly plenty of rough-and-tumble in translating existing privacy laws and practices to new technologies, but government mandates on private-sector information practices would not improve things,” Harper said. They would be especially ironic because governments themselves are the chief threat to privacy. Congress and state legislators can do extraordinary good by getting the government’s privacy house in order.”

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