Congressman Seeks Transparency in Consumer Data

WASHINGTON — A Congressman plans to introduce new legislation that would allow Internet users to see what kind of information companies are collecting about them and how that information is being used.

During a panel discussion on the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Track” initiative, U.S. House Representative Cliff Stearns said it’s important to create legislation that would keep companies in check and would give users the ability to control how their information is used in advertising.

"The goal of the legislation is to empower consumers to make their own privacy choices,” Stearns said.

“My draft legislation requires covered entities to provide consumers in clear and easy to understand language what information is being collected and how the information is being used. It includes a provision for an FTC approved five-year self-regulatory program and prescribes requirements for a self-regulatory consumer dispute resolution process."

Stearns argued that his bill wouldn’t undermine the online advertising industry, which relies heavily on targeted ads in order to make money and provide free services to users.

"We do not want to disrupt a well-established and successful business model," Stearns said.

Instead, he wants "more robust transparency" from the companies that collect the information — notice of data collection outside of the company's privacy policy and customers being told how to keep the information from being collected.

The new bill will be based on one that Stearns introduced in 2005 — the Consumer Privacy Protection Act.

The 2005 bill asked companies to notify users upon the first instance of identifiable information collection on their websites, provide details on how the information would be used, and provide a clear instructions on how users can limit the data collection.

Neither the House nor the Senate ended up voting on the bill. Based on Stearns' description of the bill, it will likely end up being a copy of the old one with some newer twists.