Statement by Senator Ernest F. Hollings
S. 2201, The Online Personal Privacy Act
Executive Session – May 16, 2002
Seven years ago the FTC began to examine the thorny issue of Internet privacy. Two years ago, after years of studies, public forums, and published reports, the Commission recommended Congress pass legislation. Since that time we have had four bills in the Commerce Committee and five hearings. Today, we finally take the important step of reporting pro-privacy, pro-consumer, and pro-business privacy legislation to the full Senate.
The outlines of this legislation took shape at a Committee hearing last July, when a majority of the Senators began talking about the need for stronger protections for people’s sensitive personal information. With respect to less sensitive information, there was agreement as well. Consumers need notice of what companies are doing with information and a chance to opt out.
Since that hearing I have worked with, and want to commend, the cosponsors to our bill – Senators Stevens, Inouye, Burns, Rockefeller, Kerry, Breaux, Cleland, Carnahan, and Nelson. We put together a common sense bill that will promote consumer confidence on the Internet – a place where poll after poll demonstrates consumers want our help.
Other than progressive minded companies like Hewlett Packard and Intel, industry still opposes this bill. This disappoints me. Over 180 American businesses have signed up to provide Europeans virtually identical privacy protections via the EU safe harbor. Yet they oppose this legislation, which protects Americans’ privacy. What we require simply codifies industry best practices on the Internet. In fact, this bill gives industry much of what it claims it wants – strong preemption, a notice requirement, an opt-out requirement for virtually all information collected on the Internet, and a process to apply privacy protections offline, as well as online. But for people’s sensitive personal information – their debts, income, assets, and medical records, we preserve consumer control over that information. If companies want to trade and profit in these sensitive areas – get consumers’ consent. It’s that simple. And it’s the right approach.
Our bill also sets forth requires reasonable access and reasonable security requirements – tracking the approach the Senate supported nearly unanimously with respect to children’s privacy on the Internet in 1998, which the FTC implemented without controversy.
Since introduction of our bill we have listened to hundreds of suggestions from consumer groups, academics, and industry. This substitute contains many of those suggestions, and it is a better bill for it. I particularly appreciate the contributions of Barbara Boxer whose ideas for solving the vexing online-offline issue are incorporated in our substitute amendment. I also want to thank Ron Wyden for his commitment to this issue for years, and his invaluable efforts on helping me craft a sensible safe harbor provision that enhances enforcement and provides business certainty for compliance purposes.
Today, we take an important step to promote privacy for Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion as this legislation progresses on the Senate floor. I want to recognize my colleague and friend, my distinguished Ranking Member, Senator McCain.