Timothy J Muris – chairman of the Federal Trade Commission – is on Thursday expected to announce that the body will not push for tighter privacy laws.

In a speech to a privacy conference in Cleveland, Muris reportedly will reveal that, instead of strengthening regulation, the FTC will expand its privacy-dedicated staff by 50% to monitor more websites and clamp down with court action on violations of current law.

The decision is a U-turn from the determination of the Clinton-era FTC under Robert Pitofsky to seek tighter privacy laws [WAMN: 23-May-00], but had been hinted at in earlier comments by Muris [WAMN: 29-Jun-01].

The FTC will also act against ‘spam’ by compiling a national list of firms sending excessive amounts of unsolicited commercial emals.

Needless to say, news of the speech angered privacy groups. However, the decision has added import in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks on the US, since when many companies are thought to have shared masses of consumer data with authorities, sometimes in violation of their own privacy policies.

“If the speech was delivered on September 10, it would have been viewed as a negative event in the privacy community,” commented Larry Ponemon, head of the Privacy Council. “Now that it’s delivered after [September 11], it’s a crisis. It looks like we’ve lost federal government support.”

News source: MediaWeek.com (US)