Lawmakers and business representatives clashed on Tuesday over whether the government needs to take a more active approach to protecting consumers’ online privacy, even as the White House moves forward with a plan for an online bill of rights on privacy.
The core differences over the issue were highlighted on Tuesday, as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet examined how mobile devices and other new technology are changing the privacy landscape.
“There have been astonishing advancements in the delivery of products and services online, and as a result there are privacy implications for a variety of new technologies, some of which were not even in existence a few years ago,” said subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
The Obama administration has asked lawmakers to develop privacy legislation, but prospects for any bill appear slim.
In February, the Commerce Department released a report that called for action on privacy regardless of whether Congress moves forward with protections of its own. In July, the administration will begin developing an online privacy bill of rights by holding a meeting to consider privacy for mobile apps.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Goodlatte argued that the speed of innovation highlights how any measure to protect consumers needs to ensure that “innovation is encouraged and not stifled by undue regulatory burdens.”
No one at the hearing disagreed with that argument, but representatives of eBay and the Association for Competitive Technology, which represents app developers, signaled that new rules are needed to provide companies and consumers with more regulatory certainty.
Any government rules should apply to the way that information is used, not to the technology that collects data, ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed told the panel.
“Privacy issues must be addressed in a comprehensive manner, not in a way that creates siloed solutions for each technology, especially since those silos are disappearing every day,” he said.
Chris Babel, CEO of TRUSTe, which certifies website privacy, testified that privacy protection should focus on companies’ self-regulatory efforts.
“Self-regulation provides a flexible privacy-protection framework that can quickly adapt to rapidly evolving technologies,” he said.
But several lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., were skeptical of self-regulation.
“I have a little problem with the fox setting rules for the henhouse,” Marino said.
This article appears in the June 20, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.