Privacy Issues Heat Up in Congress Today

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Privacy is poised to take center stage today with a House subcommittee hearing on consumer data privacy set for this morning and privacy advocates expected to file a complaint against Microsoft.

A hearing titled "How Do Businesses Use Customer Information: Is the Customer's Privacy Protected?" will take place today before the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection.

Many major consumer data stewards, including Experian, Acxiom, Equifax, IBM,, Procter & Gamble, General Motors Corp. and Lands' End Inc., are scheduled to testify.

Participants said they could not comment on what they would cover in their testimonies.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center announced yesterday that it would file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices on the part of Microsoft.

The privacy groups took issue with Microsoft's Passport user identification system, which stores users' personal information, and the firm's intentions to incorporate it into its new Windows XP operating system.

Passport is part of Microsoft's HailStorm initiative, which is expected to roll out next year. Microsoft claims HailStorm will allow users to store a wide variety of personal information so it does not have to be re-entered at various Web sites. It will function as a subscription service, according to Microsoft, and users' personal data will not be shared with third parties.

Even so, EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg yesterday told The New York Times that his organization has several concerns about Passport, including Microsoft's ability to keep the data secure.

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