DMers Prepare for Busy End to 107th Congress

Though there is less than two months between the time Congress returns from recess next week and the Oct. 24 close of the 107th Congress, industry representatives say several bills could be passed that affect direct marketers.

The Senate returns from recess Sept. 3. The House of Representatives returns Sept. 4.

Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said the Senate might pass The Online Personal Privacy Act of 2002.

The bill would require any company with an online presence to obtain opt-in consent from consumers for sensitive data and provide opt-out options for other data. Sensitive information includes financial data, medical records, Social Security numbers, religious affiliation and sexual orientation. Non-sensitive information would include transactional data from online purchases.

In addition, an amendment would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to develop similar rules for the offline world within six months of enactment.

The Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2002, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-FL, would require companies to post detailed privacy policies and let consumers opt out of having their information shared with outside firms. Unlike the online privacy bill proposed in April by Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-SC, individuals would be unable to sue over violations. The Hollings bill has passed committee but has not yet gone to the full Senate.

“We clearly believe the Stearns approach, as opposed to the Hollings approach, is better,” Cerasale said. “I think it's an uphill battle in terms of either of these bills getting through. But I think we are going to have to keep our eyes and ears open. Things get a head of steam very quickly, especially in the privacy area, so we are going to have to be very vigilant.”

Another bill, Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2001, or CAN SPAM, also has a chance to pass, Cerasale said. This bill would require companies to include a working return address in e-mails and would give Internet service providers the ability to sue to keep spam out of their networks.

On the postal front, the Senate will consider the Treasury and General Government Appropriations bill, which was approved last month by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It includes $60 million for the U.S. Postal Service.

The USPS wants a provision added to the Homeland Security bill that would allow vendors of sanitizing equipment to have indemnity from lawsuits should their products not do their job. The USPS cannot offer them indemnity, and the companies will not do business with the postal service without it.

Bill S 2754, introduced by Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-ME, calls on the White House to create a presidential commission to evaluate the postal service's economic problems.

Though Cerasale doesn't think there will be movement on the bill at this point, he said, “we think the administration is seriously considering creating this type of commission, and they don't need the Collins bill to do that.” He said a commission could be announced before the congressional session ends in October.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, said last week he plans to introduce postal reform legislation early next year. Reportedly, the bill would be identical to one that died in the House Government Reform Committee in June. Features include removing the agency's break-even mandate, allowing it to retain profits and establish a new rate-setting process.

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