Lawmakers Unveil Privacy Bill

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Two U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation Saturday that would provide privacy protection for Internet users.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Cannon, R-UT, and Anna Eshoo, D-CA, would require Web sites to notify visitors how personal data such as telephone numbers and ZIP codes are used and would allow visitors to limit its use.

The bill mirrors legislation introduced in the Senate last year by Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and John Kerry, D-MA.

Like the McCain-Kerry bill, the House legislation would require Web sites to clearly state what they intend to do with the personal data they collect from visitors but would place no restrictions on what they can do with that data.

Web surfers would be allowed to opt out of any data collection attempts and would be able to find out what data are collected and with whom it is shared.

The bill closely reflects the views of Internet companies that say such data allow them to target products, services and advertising to individual customers. Separate privacy bills have already been introduced in the House by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, and Rep. Rush Holt, D-NJ.

The two House committees on which the co-sponsors sit will take up the bill. Cannon will oversee its progress through the Judiciary Committee, while Eshoo will keep track of it in the House Commerce Committee.

Observers and legislators agree that Congress will probably pass an Internet privacy bill this year. The question is what sort of bill will emerge: one that sets minimal guidelines and encourages the industry to police itself, or one that provides stronger federal protections for consumers.

While some Internet trade groups oppose new privacy laws, others have recognized that a government role is inevitable. The American Electronics Association released a set of guidelines last week calling for legislation similar to that introduced by Cannon and Eshoo.

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