Washington, D.C.: Consumer And Privacy Groups Urge Congress to Enact Consumer Privacy Guarantees

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Amina Fazlullah (202) 546-9707 x336

Washington, D.C.: Consumer And Privacy Groups Urge Congress to Enact Consumer Privacy Guarantees

WASHINGTON - A coalition of ten consumer and privacy
advocacy organizations today called on Congress to enact legislation to
protect consumer privacy in response to threats from the growing
practices of online behavioral tracking and targeting.

"Developments
in the digital age urgently require the application of Fair Information
Practices to new business practices," the groups said. "Today, electronic information from consumers is collected, compiled, and sold; all done without reasonable safeguards."

The groups noted that for the past four
decades the foundation of U.S. privacy policies has been based on Fair
Information Practices: collection limitation, data quality, purpose
specification, use limitation, security safeguards, openness,
individual participation, and accountability. They called on Congress
to apply those principles in legislation to protect consumer
information and privacy.

Behavioral advertising, where a user's
online activity is tracked so that ads can be served based on the
user's behavior, was cited as a particular concern: "Tracking people's
every move online is an invasion of privacy. Online behavioral tracking
is even more distressing when consumers aren't aware who is tracking
them, that it's happening, or how the information will be used.  Often
consumers are not asked for their consent and have no meaningful
control over the collection and use of their information, often by
third parties with which they have no relationships."

The coalition outlined its concerns and
recommended principles for consumer information privacy legislation in
letters sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, its
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection and
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

Read the Principles here: http://www.uspirg.org/privacy-legislative-primer

Read a copy of the letters here: http://www.uspirg.org/Waxman-letter

http://www.uspirg.org/Boucher-letter

http://www.uspirg.org/Rush-letter

Read the two page overview here: http://www.uspirg.org/privacy2pgr

"Consumers must have their privacy
protected as they conduct business and personal matters online,"
explained Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital
Democracy.  "Ensuring that our financial, health, and household
transactions have adequate safeguards must be a top Congressional
priority."

Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has
indicated that the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the
Internet will consider consumer privacy legislation this fall. Hearings
were held this summer.

"The rise of behavioral tracking has
made it possible for consumer information to be almost invisibly
tracked, complied and potentially misused on or offline.  It's critical
that government enact strong privacy regulations whose protections will
remain with consumers as they interact on their home computer, cell
phones, PDAs or even at the store down the street.  Clear rules will
help consumers understand how their information is used, obtained and
tracked," said Amina Fazlullah of U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 
"In the event of abuse of consumer information, this legislation could
provide consumers a clear pathway for assistance from government
agencies or redress in the courts."

"Respect for human dignity is at the
core of our concerns, but we are also worried that online behavioral
tracking can be used to target vulnerable consumers for high-price
loans, bogus health cures and other potentially harmful products and
services," said Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection at
Consumer Federation of America.

"Technological advances have made it
far too easy to surreptitiously track individuals online," said Melissa
Ngo of Privacy Lives. "Congress needs to step in and enact legislation
that will protect consumer privacy rights no matter what technology is
used to collect their data."

"When a consumer goes
online, they expect that the information collected from the pages they
visit will be kept private from companies trolling the Web looking for
personal information," said Joel Kelsey, of Consumers Union. "We are
setting a very dangerous precedent for American families if we allow
advertisers and Internet companies to monitor our every click and
analyze our every Web stroke, just to sell our information off without
our knowledge."

"Limiting
commercial tracking of our online activities may also help protect
privacy against the government, which often gets information about us
from private companies," said Lee Tien, of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation.

"Behavioral ad technology represents
the cutting edge of insidious surveillance.  It is essential that
national policy puts privacy first so that consumers can fully
participate online without fear of unfair data collection and use,"
said Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times.

So far the online industry has argued
that self-regulation provides adequate consumer protection.  The
coalition said formal regulation is necessary.

"The record is clear: industry
self-regulation doesn't work," said Beth Givens, Director of the
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse "It is time for Congress to step in and
codify the principles into law."

"We've seen in industry after industry
what happens when the fox is left to guard the chicken coop --
consumers lose," said John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.
"Regulations that can be enforced to hold the industry accountable are
essential."

Among the main points that the coalition said should be included in consumer privacy legislation:

  • Sensitive information should not be collected or used for behavioral tracking or targeting.
  • No behavioral data should be collected or used from anyone under age 18 to the extent that age can be inferred.
  • Web
    sites and ad networks shouldn't be able to collect or use behavioral
    data for more than 24 hours without getting the individual's
    affirmative consent.
  • Behavioral
    data shouldn't be used to unfairly discriminate against people or in
    any way that would affect an individual's credit, education,
    employment, insurance, or access to government benefits.

About the members of the coalition:

Center for Digital Democracy:
The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) is dedicated to ensuring that
the public interest is a fundamental part of the new digital
communications landscape. URL: http://www.democraticmedia.org

Consumer Federation of America: Since 1968, the
Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has provided consumers a
well-reasoned and articulate voice in decisions that affect their
lives. URL: http://www.consumerfed.org

Consumers Union: Consumers Union is a nonprofit
membership organization chartered in 1936 to provide consumers with
information, education and counsel about goods, services, health, and
personal finance. URL: http://www.consumersunion.org

Consumer Watchdog: Consumer Watchdog (formerly The
Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights) is a consumer group that
has been fighting corrupt corporations and crooked politicians since
1985. URL: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org

Electronic Frontier Foundation:
When freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic
Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. URL: http://www.eff.org

Privacy Lives:  Published by Melissa Ngo, the
Website chronicles and analyzes attacks on privacy and various defenses
against them to show that privacy lives on, despite the onslaught. URL:
http://www.privacylives.com

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: The Privacy Rights
Clearinghouse is a consumer organization with a two-part mission: To
raise consumer awareness about privacy and to advocate for privacy
rights in policy proceedings. URL: http://www.privacyrights.org

Privacy Times:
Since 1981, Privacy Times has provided its readers with accurate
reporting, objective analysis and thoughtful insight into the events
that shape the ongoing debate over privacy and Freedom of Information. 
URL: http://www.privacytimes.com

U.S. Public Interest Research Group:
The federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) stands
up to powerful special interests on behalf of the public, working to
win concrete results for our health and our well-being. URL: http://www.uspirg.org

The World Privacy Forum:
WPF is focused on conducting in-depth research, analysis, and consumer
education in the area of privacy. Areas of focus include health care,
technology, and the financial sector. URL: http://www.worldprivacyforum.org

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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.

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