Lists and Prospecting: Privacy Bills Update

Feb 01, 2002 10:30 PM  By

Although the war on terrorism has consumed much of their attention, federal legislators aren’t neglecting privacy-related issues. For instance, at press time Rep. Clifford Stearns (R-FL) was working on a bill that would establish a mandatory notice of opt-out across all media channels, including mail, the Internet, and telephone.

Stearns is expected to introduce his bill during the second session of Congress this year. Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, says the proposal wouldn’t necessarily represent a direct threat to mailers’ prospecting strategies. But since Stearns is the chairman of the Congressional subcommittee that handles privacy, “it’s worth paying attention to,” Cerasale says. “We’re working with Stearns’s staff to make sure they understand our concerns.” The bill, which could force mailers to get opt-ins from all names on their lists, is still far from complete, he says. “The difference between its current outline version vs. actual provisions for a final bill can be very different.”

Among bills that are on the docket:

  • PRIVACY ACT OF 2001 (S. 1055): Introduced in June by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the bill prohibits the sale and disclosure of personally identifiable information by a commercial entity, such as a list firm or a compiler, to a nonaffiliated third party, such as a cataloger looking to rent a list, unless “prescribed procedures for notice and opportunity to restrict such disclosure” are followed.

    The bill’s last major action was on June 14, when it was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary for further debate. Although Cerasale says that the bill “will likely be part of discussions” in Congress this year, it’s anyone’s guess whether legislators will rally round it. But he does think that the use of social security numbers, which is mentioned in the bill, “has the biggest possibility of some type of action by Congress. [S. 1055] has a provision that social security numbers can be used for businesses but not made public for identification purposes. That’s liveable for our members.” For instance, the Feinstein bill would allow a marketer to use the last four digits of a social security number to identify which John Smith of New York it was targeting.

  • CONSUMER PRIVACY PROTECTION ACT (H.R. 2135): Introduced in June by Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-OH), the bill limits how much personal and optional consumer information, such as demographic data, companies that rent in lists can disclose. The bill would also mandate “reasonable” consumer access to such personal information. H.R. 2135 was referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on June 18 for further review, but it has yet to make it to the floor of the House.

  • NETIZENS PROTECTION ACT OF 2001 (H.R. 3146): Introduced in October by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), this bill would restrict the transmission of unsolicited e-mail messages. The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on Oct. 29; no action had yet been taken on it at press time.