Kerry, McCain Target Online Privacy With New Bill

Dubbed The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, the bill mandates that companies collecting user data provide clear notice to individuals on their practices and the purpose of collecting user information.

It also mandates that companies take an opt-in approach when it comes to collecting personally identifiable information, and that individuals are given the opportunity to opt-out of data collection efforts unauthorized by the legislation.

“Americans have a right to decide how their information is collected, used, and distributed and businesses deserve the certainty that comes with clear guidelines,” Kerry said in a statement. “Our bill makes fair information practices the rules of the road, gives Americans the assurance that their personal information is secure, and allows our information driven economy to continue to thrive in today’s global market.”

In addition, the bill requires companies that collect information have security measures in place to protect the information they collect and store. It also sets rules on how much data can be collected, and mandates third-parties be bound by contract to ensure any data passed to them will be used or maintained in accordance with the bill’s limits. Other provisions include a rule that companies that collect data would only be allowed to take in as much as is necessary to process or enforce a transaction or deliver a service.

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Rainey Reitman, activism director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the bill a mixed bag.

“In Senator Kerry's press conference about the bill, he stated that an individual shouldn't have to be a "computer genius" to opt-out of information sharing,” Reitman said. “But under this proposal, a consumer would indeed need to be quite computer savvy to protect her privacy…We would have liked to see stronger protections for online privacy, especially for those individuals who are concerned about the privacy of their online reading habits but don't have the technological background to fend off pervasive online tracking.”

Enforcing the provisions of the bill would fall to the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General. “Consumers want to shop, browse and share information in an environment that is respectful of their personal information,” McCain said in a statement. “Our legislation sets forth a framework for companies to create such an environment and allows businesses to continue to market and advertise to all consumers, including potential customers.

“However, the bill does not allow for the collection and sharing of private data by businesses that have no relationship to the consumer for purposes other than advertising and marketing,” he continued. “It is this practice that American consumers reject as an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”