March 10, 2005 4:18 PM PST

Congress edges toward new privacy rules

An amorphous political debate over how to respond to recent data mishaps at ChoicePoint, Bank of America and Reed Elsevier Group's LexisNexis service is beginning to take shape.

In what could mark a turning point in the legislative process, both Democratic and Republican politicians on Thursday decried what they called poor security for Americans' personal information held by data brokers such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis.

During a Senate Banking committee hearing, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said he plans to introduce a bill next week that borrows concepts from securities regulation. The measure would require "the chairman or chief enforcement officer to attest to the effectiveness of the systems that provide for control of information" and provide notification to consumers of security breaches, Corzine said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is preparing his own proposal to require a "box to be posted on any Web site that seeks to obtain personal information about a customer" with disclosure about how the data will be used. Schumer promised that "we're going to force companies to demonstrate a need for customers' personal information before requiring it from them."

For the last few weeks, politicians have been responding to news of data breaches with the usual cries of outrage and vows of prompt action. But few details of possible legislative responses have emerged.

In the last 24 hours, however, Schumer and Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, have both talked about using the recent security incidents to enact legislation that would target far more companies than merely information brokers. Schumer, for instance, indicated he wished to regulate all commercial Web sites.

Such aggressive responses have raised eyebrows among some Washington watchers. "They're using this as an excuse to advance not-terribly-relevant privacy protections," said Jim Harper, director of information policy at the free-market Cato Institute. "These proposals are not focused on harm to consumers, which is what matters most."

Republicans also called for new laws. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said Thursday that he plans to convene a hearing for March 15.

"Under current law these companies have a legal right to package information and do almost anything they want with it," Barton said. "I personally see no socially redeeming value in anyone having the right to give away and sell my personal information unless I approve it."

Deborah Majoras, appointed by President Bush as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, echoed that sentiment. "There may be additional measures that will benefit consumers," she said.

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Hope springs eternal
Amorphous debates by politicos on protecting citizen privacy will probably result in more amorphous privacy protection laws like 1974s Privacy Act. In theory, a great effort toward protecting citizen privacy, but in application largely useless protection of individual data privacy.

The problem is that the government's domestic INTEL folks cant legally collect data on individuals. They need the citizen information databases of data collectors like ChoicePoint, Bank of America, Reed Elsevier, LexisNexis and the rest to get around U.S. privacy protection laws. I expect some toothless bipartisan eye wash personal privacy legislation will come out and pass during the 2006 election cycle, but nothing more.

They say that hope springs eternal. Well see what and who ends up getting protected when all the partisan political dust settles.
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
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It could happen to ME
If we're not careful the politicians will protect us to the point where no one will be able tko talk to anyone anywhere. We have to keep politics out of the internet and get companies envolved in keeping it clean. They make the money, so spend it on privacy. I think my privacy is not private when the government get it.
Posted by Richie (21 comments )
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