US Privacy Bill Finds Few Friends

13 May 2002

The privacy bill introduced into the US House of Representatives last week [WAMN: 10-May-02] met a frosty reception both from consumer groups and business bodies – predictably for different reasons.

Designed to protect consumers’ personal information, the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, introduced by representative Cliff Stearns (Republican, Florida), is the first of its kind to apply to offline as well as online marketers – a feature not to the liking of some business organisations.

“The provisions are thoughtful, but this bill requires things that would be disruptive in a retail environment,” argued Mallory Duncan, the National Retail Federation’s vp and general counsel. “If a sales associate says, ‘We don’t have that [product] in and I will call you back when we get it,’ [under the bill] she would have to produce a privacy pamphlet.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Joe Rubin, director of congressional affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, who insisted there is “no demand” for laws governing offline privacy and “little demand” for those concerning the web.

Consumer groups, on the other hand, fear the bill does anything but protect consumers, highlighting measures in the legislation that would prevent litigation over violations of privacy, allow firms to pool information with other companies and forbid individual states from enforcing laws stricter than those of federal government.

“It should be labeled ‘Consumer Prevention of Privacy Act’,” blasted Chris Hoofnagle, an aide at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It will diminish individual privacy rights on and offline.”

The legislation would put enforcement of privacy policy in the hands of self-regulatory schemes and the Federal Trade Commission. Hoofnagle claims an individual would have little scope to take action against a firm contravening the law if the company’s action had not harmed enough people to prompt an FTC investigation.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff