A New Approach To Privacy

Privacy Rights graphic with Privacy Rights text. GD, 020419
In a reversal of Clinton-era policy, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris said on Thursday that the agency will rely on stepped up enforcement of existing law consumer privacy laws - not new laws - to ensure privacy on the Internet.

Muris, speaking at the Privacy 2001 conference here, said that since his appointment in June he has assembled a new privacy agenda for the FTC. It calls for a 50 percent increase in resources dedicated to consumer privacy and creating a national list of consumers who have requested that telemarketers not call them.

Muris said there is more concern for privacy and security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but he said national security issues are beyond the reach of the FTC.

"I think privacy protection is extremely important," he said. "There will be a national debate outside the FTC sphere involving the balance between civil liberties and protecting us from terrorism."

Last year, the FTC issued a report to Congress calling for new laws that make sure consumers know how their personal information is being collected over the Internet and how the information is being used.

Muris explained that existing laws designed to guard consumers' privacy on the Internet and in regular business transactions are sufficient if the federal government pays more attention to enforcing them.

"I'm not saying 'no-how, never, no' to legislation," Muris said. "We at least need a pause while we figure out how to effectively enforce the legislation we do have."

Muris said the FTC, a national consumer protection agency, developed its new privacy policy from meetings with government, consumer, industry and trade officials.

Among the initiatives Muris announced are creating a National Do-Not-Call List to shield off telemarketers, strengthening enforcement against the unsolicited commercial e-mail which is often referred to as "spam," helping victims of identity theft and encouraging accuracy in credit reporting.

Norm Willox, LexisNexis chief officer for privacy, industry and regulatory affairs, said Muris proposed a balanced evaluation of the nation's privacy needs.

Dayton, Ohio-based Lexis-Nexis provides information to legal, corporate, government and academic markets, and publishes legal, tax and regulatory information online and through print and CD-ROM formats.

"In the past we always seemed to take security off the table. Now we're forced to deal with it. But I hope privacy advocates will stay engaged, to be heard," Willox said.

Larry Ponemon, chief executive of Richardson, Texas-based Privacy Council, had been critical of the FTC's leanings against seeking more strict privacy regulation through new laws.

Most privacy advocates "feel easier now about the FTC stance, but the substance of the speech still suggests that the FTC is not about developing new regulations for privacy and data protection," he said. "Such regulations are sorely needed to combat abuse that exists today."

Ponemn said Muris "is basically providing good suggestions and, as a whole, they stand to improve the state of privacy compliance, but a regulation without enforcement is meaningless."

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