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UPDATE: Privacy Will Be a Top Issue in New Congress

Internet privacy will be one of the top issues of the 107th Congress, which convened for the first time last week.

Insiders said there will be dozens of smaller privacy bills introduced in this session, much like in the last session which ended in December.

During this session, Congress is expected to debate whether to impose privacy guidelines on Web sites and whether those guidelines should stipulate that sites can disclose personal information only if Web users opt in.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-SC, said he would reintroduce legislation this session with that requirement.

In the 106th Congress, Hollings sponsored H.R. 2606, the Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2000. This bill requires notice and opt in for collection and disclosure of personal information; gives the U.S. Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority; and creates a private right of action.

Other Internet privacy bills from the 106th Congress likely to be reintroduced include:

• Internet Growth and Development Act, sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-VA, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, D-VA, which requires companies to post and comply with privacy policies.

• Online Privacy Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-MT, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, which requires privacy disclosures, and also allows consumers to access their personal data.

• Electronic Privacy Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, which requires privacy disclosures and consumer consent for all uses of data, and allows consumers to access their personal data.

• Secure Online Communications Enforcement Act of 2000, sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-NJ, which restricts disclosure of personal information without the consent of the consumer.

• Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, which requires sites to provide clear, conspicuous disclosure of information practices.

Insiders also said that privacy legislation would most likely be passed this Congress, unlike in the last Congress.

One reason is that privacy is a nonpartisan issue. Partisan legislation, such as taxes and education, is more likely to be stalled this time because of a sharply divided Congress. Republicans will narrowly be in charge of the House, and, for the first time since 1881, both parties will hold the same number of seats in the Senate.

Several members of congress who have supported Internet marketing causes were defeated in this election, including Sen. John Ashcroft, R-MO, and Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-MI.

However, Ashcroft has been named attorney general-designate by president-elect George W. Bush.

Ashcroft has spoken against government regulation of the Internet, and against Internet taxes. In 1998, he joined a majority in Congress in voting for the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which placed a three-year moratorium on new federal, state and local Internet taxes. President Clinton has since signed the act into law.

Sen. Abraham also was an integral part of the original effort to pass a moratorium on new Internet taxes.

However, Congress also gained two potential friends of the industry: Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Sen. John Ensign, R-NV. The Direct Marketing Association supported these congressmen in their campaigns.

Congress also chose new committee chairmen last week.

Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-LA, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Consumer Protection, was named the House Commerce and Energy Committee chairman this Congress, replacing the retired Rep. Tom Bliley, R-VA.

This committee has jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission and most telemarketing and Internet-related issues, as well as a variety of issues relating to privacy policy, which the committee often shares with the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI.

“Tauzin is pretty knowledgeable on privacy, caller-ID and telemarketing issues, especially since he's been chairman of the relevant subcommittee,” said Roscoe P. Starek III, senior vice president of catalog issues at the DMA, Washington.

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