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US CONGRESS URGED TO GUARD ONLINE CONSUMER PRIVACY

Legislation should require Web sites to post their policies, lawmakers say.

Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Posted on September 16, 2000

      The US Congress must set minimum guidelines to protect consumers' privacy on the Internet, two key US legislators said yesterday, while acknowledging that industry has made substantial progress to guard personal data.

      Legislation should require that every Web site post privacy policies, let users prohibit companies from collecting information, supersede any state laws and give U.S. regulators the power to enforce and review policies, said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.

      Clear privacy policies are as important to consumers as toll-free complaint numbers, a recent survey released at the Global Internet Summit in Washington found. Many consumers have complained that they won't shop on line because they worry that personal information, such as their shopping habits, addresses and birth dates could be acquired by unauthorized sources.

      "Congress will take a close look at online privacy next year," said Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., co-chairman of the House Internet Caucus. "We cannot allow outliers, those who will never voluntarily comply with privacy guidelines, to spoil the entire process."

      Most U.S. Internet users worry that companies can obtain their personal data without permission, and 86 percent of users want policies that let them decide whether such information may be disclosed, a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found in August.

      By setting minimum standards, Congress could give companies a feature to market in seeking new customers, Boucher said. A company could adopt features that exceed government requirements, and use those privacy guarantees to attract customers, he said.

      House leaders, including Boucher, plan to debate privacy policies in Congress next year, Goodlatte said.

      A study released yesterday said nearly all Web users say they are concerned about privacy online, even though most have transmitted such information as a credit-card number.




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