The House passed legislation Tuesday that supporters say would update a 1988 law designed to protect the privacy of consumers' video viewing records to reflect the changing ways people watch movies and television shows.
The legislation, passed on a 303-116 vote, would amend the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, enacted after a newspaper published the video rental records of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. The proposed changes offered in legislation from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee, would allow companies such as Netflix to obtain one-time consent to share consumers' video rental information with others.
"This bill ensures the law related to the handling of videotape rental information is updated to reflect the realities of the 21st century," Goodlatte said.
Netflix in particular has been pushing Congress to make changes that would allow its users to connect their Netflix accounts to Facebook so they can share with their Facebook friends what they are watching on the video service. When it announced it was launching the Facebook service in September, Netflix said it was only rolling it out in Canada and Latin America because the video privacy law barred it from introducing the service in the United States.
But critics argue that the bill has not been properly vetted and that it would weaken the video privacy law by allowing companies to seek blanket approval from individuals to share their video rental history.
"There's case after case after case of consumers' information being used, abused, and misused and here we are making it easier for that to occur," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the ranking member on the Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee. "I understand there are people who have an interest in this. They are people who profit from mining this kind of information."
Goodlatte, however, noted that supporters have tried to address concerns with the measure by adopting an amendment in committee that would require explicit written consent from consumers. "In no way does this bill undercut the principal purpose of the Video Privacy Protection Act because the power rests with the consumer," he said.
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