Obama administration seeks Internet privacy bill

Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:17am EDT
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By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is backing legislation to protect the personal data of Internet users, toughening its stance from a call last year for voluntary codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers.

"The administration is now at the point of recommending that this be dealt with in legislation," said Lawrence Strickling, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Testifying on Wednesday to the Senate Commerce Committee, Strickling backed creation of a bill of rights for Internet users with legally enforceable standards for the collection and sale of personal data gathered from Internet use.

Strickling steered clear of specific recommendations of what practices should be allowed or banned, saying that industry and consumer groups could do that work more nimbly.

"It's impossible for us to say today what the privacy issue will be six months from now," he said, noting that it can take a year to get a regulation on the books.

Democratic Senator John Kerry, who has been circulating proposed privacy legislation drafted with Republican Senator John McCain, said he planned to introduce a commercial privacy bill of rights "in short order."

"We approached this with a real open mind, and I think people will acknowledge a fair amount of reasonableness and flexibility. But we can't let the status quo stand," Kerry said.

Advertisers and data aggregators defend their practices as necessary to give Internet users more relevant advertising.   Continued...

<p>An attendee sends a tweet during a conference in Los Angeles September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>