Last updated: May 9, 2011 - 8:40am
[Commentary] Several proposals are circulating in Congress, including a bill by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) that would require companies to develop easy-to-understand privacy policies and alert users when they decide to disclose or sell personally identifiable information; a measure by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) that would require companies to obtain users' permission before collecting sensitive personal information; and a proposal by California State Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) to require the Federal Trade Commission to adopt a system enabling consumers to prevent companies from tracking their movements online.
We'll save the discussion of the various proposals' pros and cons for another day. For now, we urge lawmakers to stay out of the FTC's way as it seeks to enforce the principles it recently enumerated in a consent degree regarding Google Buzz, a social network that many Google email users were thrust into unwittingly. Those include a duty to design products and services to protect personal information against unintended disclosures, and to seek users' permission before making new and unexpected uses of the information previously collected. Both of these ideas draw on the clear and straightforward "Fair Information Practices" that a federal advisory panel laid out almost four decades ago — well before Apple warned Super Bowl audiences about Big Brother's prying electronic eyes.
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