Live from Government Affairs Conference: new privacy threats

(Direct Newsline) Washington–The privacy “bill of the hour” is a major issue for direct marketers, said H. Robert Wientzen, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, speaking April 30 at the DMA’s 2002 Government Affairs Conference here.

The bill, a sweeping online privacy bill introduced by Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings, would, among a number of things, prevent companies from transferring “sensitive” personal information without opt-in permission from the individual, Wientzen said.

An opt-out would have to be offered for all nonsensitive information before the data could be used or transferred. And the bill would require companies to provide consumers with “reasonable access” to their data so that they could correct or delete it.

“The bill’s moving fast,” Wientzen said. It is scheduled to be marked up April 15.

Another privacy bill, likely to be introduced this week by Rep. Cliff Stearns, may limit Social Security numbers for marketing purposes and create costly notice requirements for solicitations, both online and off.

And yet another bill tackles spam. Sen. Conrad Burns is expected to introduce within the next few weeks a bill that, according to Wientzen, would punish legitimate senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail for the sins of the fly-by-night spammer. “It could be called the Guilt by Association Act,” Wientzen said.

For the current two-year legislative season so far, nearly 1,500 bills in all 50 states have been introduced to regulate the use of marketing information under the “mammoth” umbrella called privacy, Wientzen said.

He also discussed telemarketing, reminding conference attendees that 22 states have enacted bills to create do-not-call lists and that 24 states have similar legislation pending. He reiterated the DMA’s position against a federal do-not-call list as proposed by the Federal Trade Commission. “Nonetheless, this is going to be a tough fight because public opinion in most assuredly not on industry’s side,” Wientzen said.

In addition, Wientzen called for support of the U.S. Postal Service’s transformation plan and said the DMA wants three things from it:

*A system that limits rate increases to no greater than the rate of inflation.

*A system that empowers the postal service to do what is necessary to cut costs and then rewards it for implementing those cuts.

*A system that provides the postal service with pricing flexibility to meet real-world market demands.

“These objectives would be good for the postal service, our industry, and the rest of the mailing public,” Wientzen said.

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