U.S. Lawmakers Seek Online Privacy Panel

Despite the likelihood that the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce (ACEC) will fail to achieve a consensus after months of rancorous debate, both houses of the U.S. Congress are now considering the formation of a similar body to examine online privacy issues.

This week, Representatives Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) and Jim Moran (D-Virginia) introduced H.R. 4049, a bill to establish a “Commission for the Comprehensive Study of Privacy Protection.”

Hutchinson’s plan would put 17 people to work, appointed by the White House and party leadership in both houses of Congress, to examine online privacy, identity theft, and the protection of health, medical, financial and governmental records.

Comprehensive Approach

The commission, Hutchinson says, would take a “comprehensive approach to dealing with the growing concern Americans have regarding the protection of their personal privacy.” For this reason, he adds, the Hutchinson-Moran bill could replace the many pending bills that deal with individual privacy issues.

“Americans have pointed to a loss of their personal privacy as one of their gravest concerns in the coming years,” Hutchinson said.

The bill mirrors Senate Bill 1901, a proposal to create a similar body that was introduced last November by Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) — except the Hutchinson-Moran committee would have nearly twice as many members as Kohl’s version.

The Senate bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, while in the House it was sent to the Committee on Government Reform.

Echoes of the Tax Commission

Just as the ACEC is examining every possible aspect of e-commerce disputes, a privacy commission would try to find ways to protect individual privacy without enacting narrowly-focused laws to address single issues.

“The Internet has flourished in large part because of the absence of undue government regulations and oversight,” Moran said. “This is why it is vital that any legislation or regulation with respect to privacy only occur after a thoughtful, deliberate and balanced assessment of the threats we face now, and what we need to do better — if anything.”

The privacy commission would investigate the issues for 18 months, then report its findings and recommendations back to Congress. The 17 members would be asked to study current laws relating to the protection of individual privacy and existing efforts to address the issue.

The panel would also hold hearings around the country to give the private sector and communities a chance to weigh in.

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