Senate Commerce Committee holds privacy hearing
May 11, 2012 - The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a privacy hearing this week entitled, “The Need for Privacy Protection: Perspectives from the Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.” Witnesses included FTC Chairman John Liebowitz, Department of Commerce General Counsel Cameron Kerry and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen.
While this is the first Senate Commerce Hearing on the topic in 2012, it was similar to previous privacy hearings and the legislative stalemate on the issue in no closer to resolution. In summary, Committee Democrats like Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Kerry (D-MA) indicated a preference for baseline privacy legislation and cited consumer’s ignorance of deceptive and technically-worded privacy practices that could subject consumers to harm. Republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) expressed doubt about whether true consumer harm is taking place and spoke about the industry incentives to protect privacy in order to keep customers. Sen. Toomey also cited evidence of industry competition regarding consumer privacy, referencing the battle between Microsoft and Google in regards to changing privacy policies.
The witnesses mainly expounded on reports from the FTC and Commerce Department respectively. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz advocated Do Not Track legislation that would emplace mechanisms operated and overseen industry rather than government and Cameron Kerry spoke about the need for increased FTC enforcement authority and baseline privacy legislation centering on a consumer bill of rights, but with industry safe harbors.
Overall, the logjam preventing movement on consumer privacy legislation will likely continue until the next Congress in 2013. However, ABM remains actively engaged on the issue now, knowing that whatever legislation does not move this year will likely be carried over into next year. ABM continues to advocate for self-regulation and for a business capacity exemption that would ensure that laws regarding consumer privacy do not limit the ability of b-to-b companies to collect and use information about an individual in a business capacity.
By ABM chief legislative lobbyist Tom Carpenter