List Watch: Privacy Legislation Outlook

It took members of the new Congress just a few days to propose a flurry of privacy-related bills that could make prospecting and marketing even more challenging for catalogers and online merchants.

All in all, says Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president, government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, it’s more likely that online-related privacy bills will receive greater attention in Congress than print-related privacy bills this year. Nonetheless, as lawmakers become more concerned about privacy issues, more catalogers are paying attention.

“We follow [the progress of] privacy bills loosely,” says Danielle Savin, vice president of direct marketing for intimate apparel cataloger Frederick’s of Hollywood, “but we’re being more cautious about anything related to the Internet and marketing. That’s what Congress is targeting now.”

The following are some of the key privacy-related bills that were introduced by the 107th Congress in January:

  • Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act, H.R. 237. Introduced by Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) on Jan. 20. Referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, this bill would make it illegal for Web marketers to collect personal information — such as name, address, e-mail address, and social security number — without prior consent. The bill would also force Web marketers to provide consumers with a list of the types of personally identifiable information they gather and to reveal to consumers the categories of information they may collect in connection with users’ visits to their sites. Finally, it would provide consumers the opportunity to limit the use of their information for marketing purposes.

    The bill is built upon a list of privacy standards that were recommended last year by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) had cosponsored an identical bill last year, but it failed to make it to law.

  • Online Privacy Protection Act of 2001, H.R. 89. Introduced by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) on Jan. 3. Referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, this bill would require the FTC to prescribe regulations to protect the privacy of personal information collected from and about adult consumers, who are not covered by laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. The bill would also give consumers greater control of the collection and use of that information by marketers.

    Specifically, the bill would force Website operators to provide on their sites clearly stated notices about their companies’ identity, the personal information they collect, how they use the collected information, and what information they might share with other companies.

  • Social Security On-line Privacy Protection Act, H.R. 91. Also introduced by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) on Jan. 3, and also referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. This bill seeks to regulate the use of social security numbers and related personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, and e-mail addresses, by Internet service providers such as America Online, plus other owners of online lists. The bill would permit consumers to revoke any prior consent to reveal social security numbers to third parties, even if they’ve previously revealed such information.

  • Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001, H.R. 95. Introduced by Gene Green (D-TX) on Jan. 3. Referred to both the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on the Judiciary, this anti-spam bill seeks to protect consumers from unwanted e-mail solicitations. Green has said that the cost to businesses and institutions of receiving and processing unsolicited commercial electronic mail motivated him to introduce this bill.

  • College Student Credit Card Protection Act, H.R. 184. Introduced by Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and John Duncan Jr. (R-TN) on Jan. 3. Referred to the Committee on Financial Services, this bill would amend the Consumer Credit Protection Act to prevent credit-card issuers from taking unfair advantage of full-time, traditional-aged college students by making it illegal for credit-card companies to increase their amount of credit. It would also protect parents who cosign for their college-age kids’ credit cards. If approved, the bill could make lists of college students less attractive to marketers.

Whatever happened to self-regulation?

The DMA’s Cerasale won’t speculate on which bills, if any, are most likely to pass into law. But he does think there’s a good chance that, “rather than legislation, the FTC may have a workshop on data-compiling practices and come up with recommendations on best practices or recommendations for potential legislation or industry self-regulation.”

Not surprisingly, the DMA prefers self-regulation to legislation. But even if FTC recommendations did eventually become part of subsequent legislation, the “interim” period would make it easier for marketers to ultimately comply with the new laws.

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