U.S. Senators Propose Web Privacy Legislation

The bill would require companies to describe exactly who is collecting the information, how the information will be used, the types of information collected and whether personal information is required to use the site. The Web sites also would have to take steps to secure the personal information once it's in their databases.

Senators Spence Abraham, a Republican from Michigan, John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, held a news conference Wednesday to announce the introduction of the bill.

Surfing the Web shouldn't require you to share your life story with the world, Abraham said in a statement. The bill is designed to make sure Internet users know exactly how a company will use the personal information they submit so they can make a clear decision whether or not to do business with that Web site, he added.

The bill will also require Web sites to provide consumers with a clear opportunity to limit the use and disclosure of personal information for marketing purposes.

Penalties set in the legislation would be enforced by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to the statement. Anyone who violates the privacy provisions would face a civil penalty of US$22,000 per violation up to a maximum amount of $US500,000.

The new provisions would allow the FTC to move more swiftly to a civil lawsuit. Currently, if a Web site violates its own privacy policy, the FTC can issue an order against the company, but there is no penalty unless the Web site violates the original FTC order. If that occurs, the FTC can pursue a civil penalty.

In Australia, the Senate Select Comittee into Information Technologies has commenced an inquiry into electronic privacy, and will be looking into the protection of consumer information obtained through electronic transactions, including browsing on the Internet and ‘EFTPOS' transactions, the privacy and disclosure obligations of organisations that have access to consumer databases and the access by consumers to personal information held in consumer databases. Submissions can be lodged with the Senate Select Committee, with submissions closing on Friday July 28th. The Committee will commence public hearing in August of 2000.

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