July 30, 2010


Lawmakers Focus on Policy

House and Senate lawmakers have been examining privacy issues recently. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection conducted a recent hearing on HR 5777, a new piece of privacy legislation sponsored by subcommittee chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill. 

As previously reported, the measure would require that companies disclose to consumers how their information is being used. It would also require that consumers be notified each time their personal data is disclosed to a third party. Customers must “opt-in” before companies are permitted to share personal information. The Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with determining how companies comply with the law. The bill would create a safe harbor program at the FTC for companies that self-regulate. For example, if a company were to voluntarily follow the new privacy policy, it would no longer be required to obtain user consent before sharing their information. Industry witnesses were pleased at Chairman Rush’s recognition of the important role played by self-regulation.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz testified at a later privacy hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, where he told the panel that the agency is exploring the idea of a “do-not-track” list similar to the national “do-not-call” registry that would give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of having their Internet activities tracked and used to deliver targeted advertising. It is unclear whether the Commission would back a government run list – similar to do-not-call – or would support some combination of self-regulation, a universal opt-out or a technological solution such as a browser plug-in. Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Communications Subcommittee has said he plans on drafting a new privacy bill. With very few legislative days left in the year, it is unlikely that legislation will move in the House or Senate until the next session of Congress meets in 2011.

FTC Chairman Still Hopes for Expanded Rulemaking

Despite the business community’s success in convincing Congress not to include expanded FTC rulemaking authority in the financial reform legislation, the issue is not dead. At Senate privacy hearing Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., asked Chairman Leibowitz if the FTC was limited in its authority to protect consumer privacy. Chairman Leibowitz answered that they tried to obtain increased authority during financial reform, but they were not successful "this time." The issue was raised during the House hearing as well, as a witness representing a consumer group took the opportunity to argue for expanded FTC authority.

FEC Approved Political Ad Plans

The Federal Election Commission has approved the plans of two groups – one pro-Republican and the other pro-Democratic – to raise money for the purpose of running political advertising. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down limitations on the ability of individuals, corporations and unions to raise and spend money to support or oppose candidates, provided the ads are run independently of campaigns and political parties. There is still some question as to whether groups are required to seek FEC approval, but the Club for Growth and Commonsense Ten each decided to voluntarily file with the Commission.

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The AAF protects and promotes advertising at all levels of government through grassroots activities. Our nation-wide network monitors advertising-related legislation on local, state and federal levels. We put our members face-to-face with influential lawmakers while encouraging self-regulation as a preemptor to government intervention, when appropriate of course. To learn more about our advocacy efforts, click here.