Senate Commerce Committee Poised to Produce Privacy Bill

It is only a matter of time before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation produces a privacy bill, according to two participants at a hearing held yesterday on Internet privacy.

Committee chairman Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-SC, led the hearing and, at least to some, appeared ready to move forward with a privacy bill soon.

“I think that Hollings was very clear that he's going to push this forward, and I have no doubt that something will happen,” said Hans Peter Brondmo, technologist and author of a book on Internet direct marketing.

Although he is a fellow at Internet marketing firm Netcentives, Brondmo supports strong federal privacy legislation.

Another privacy advocate got a similar impression from the hearing.

“I think the most important thing that came out of it is this: The committee is clearly going to produce a bill,” said Jason Catlett, president/CEO of Junkbusters Corp., Green Brook, NJ.

However, both said it is unclear how strong the bill would be.

Most of the arguments revolved around the issues of opt-in vs. opt out, private right of action and state law pre-emption, according to Catlett.

Catlett, a staunch advocate for privacy legislation, testified at the hearing along with a panel that included Marc Rotenberg, executive director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Fred Cate, Indiana University School of Law; and Paul Schwartz, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School.

Brondmo also testified and sat on a panel with Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at; Les Seagraves, vice president and chief privacy officer at Earthlink Inc.; Ira Rubinstein, associate general counsel for Microsoft Corp.; and Erik R. Olbetter, Internet/e-commerce analyst at Schwab Capital Market L.P.

Despite differences of opinion among the participants, Brondmo said most appeared to accept that privacy legislation is inevitable.

“I think that industry is realizing that self-policing is no longer going to be enough,” he said. “It is gravitating toward acceptance that legislation will pass and trying to influence it.”

Still, Brondmo said representatives from Amazon and Microsoft were noncommittal about legislation. Representatives from the firms could not be reached for comment.

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