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Congress won't take up Web privacy until 2001
(IDG) -- With a stack of pending privacy bills before it and industry warming up to the idea of new privacy laws, Congress in just over a week will likely wind down its current session without passing legislation on the controversial Internet privacy issue.
But at a hearing Tuesday, lawmakers heard from industry giants now in favor of some form of privacy laws.
Officials from Hewlett-Packard, America Online (AOL), and Walt Disney said they are backing the "Consumer Privacy Enforcement Act" introduced by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Industry has taken the long road to realizing that privacy-related legislation is likely inevitable and is probably necessary to keep consumer confidence in e-commerce high enough to sustain the market.
"We believe it is time for government and industry to move forward together to expand consumer confidence and protect consumer privacy," said George Vradenberg, senior vice president of global and strategic policy in written remarks.
But industry powerhouses like Dulles, Va.-based America Online have warmed only to those draft bills that stop short of mandatory opt-in clauses for consumers.
Vradenberg said AOL is looking for "market-led" initiatives which provide some baseline standards for Internet companies to follow.
Those standards -- limited to notice of data being collected and choice for consumers to opt-out of data collection -- should be backed up by strong enforcement measures, said Vradenberg.
At the congressional hearing Tuesday, AOL mentioned current securities laws as a possible avenue for enforcing any new privacy laws. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard's manager of technology policy, Scott Cooper, declared dead the "zero sum game" in industry around privacy legislation.
"A critical mass of companies are now ready to work with you and find ways to make this work," Cooper said at the hearing.
McCain said that chances were slim that Congress would move on legislation before adjourning, but that Internet privacy will almost certainly heat up again early next year.
When Congress does come back to the issue -- and no longer has the presidential election looming over the debate -- it will have one less privacy bill to consider. Lawmakers on Monday voted down the "Privacy Commission Act" which would have established a commission to consider comprehensively all of the privacy issues now swirling around the Internet.
Net-privacy policies bark, but they don't bite
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