Subcommittees Launch Comprehensive Review of Internet Privacy

July 14, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today kicked off a hearing series on privacy issues to examine how information is collected, protected, and utilized in an increasingly interconnected online ecosystem. Today's hearing featured testimony from the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. These agencies provided an overview of existing privacy regulations and standards to help identify key issues for discussion moving forward.

"This morning, we begin a very important and, some say, long overdue debate. When it comes to the Internet, how do we - as Congress and as Americans - balance the need to remain innovative with the need to protect privacy?" said Bono Mack. "The explosive growth of technology has made it possible to collect information about consumers in increasingly sophisticated ways. Sometimes the collection and use of this information is extremely beneficial; other times, it's not. Frankly, I am somewhat skeptical right now of both industry and government. I don't believe industry has proven that it's doing enough to protect American consumers, while government, unfortunately, tends to overreach whenever it comes to new regulations. That's why this debate must be deliberate and thoughtful, but without question, it's time for this debate to take place."
 
Walden said, "As consumers are increasingly living their lives on the Internet -and even more on their smartphones -concern is growing over electronic communications privacy. We want to make sure Americans have adequate information regarding how data about them and their Internet use is collected, used, and shared, and to make sure their privacy is protected. But we must balance that need with the recognition that regulatory overreach may curb the ability of entrepreneurs to invest, innovate, and create jobs. At this point, it is not clear what legislation -if any -is necessary, but the hope is that this hearing will help shed additional light on that question."

During the hearing, Bono Mack posed to the top regulator the fundamental questions that will guide the subcommittees' work in the coming months: is a privacy regulation needed? If so, how do we prevent harm? FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez responded, "Consumers simply do not know what information is being collected about them and how that data is being used. So the framework that the [FTC] staff has proposed in its initial report seeks to balance basic privacy protections for consumers against the needs of the business community. The fundamental need is to provide increased protection for consumers and choice and control over the information that is being collected about them and how it's being used."

"Today's hearing reveals a broad, bipartisan consensus that the protection of the American consumer is paramount in any discussion of Internet privacy.  There is a rich competition of ideas on how to accomplish that.  I welcome that competition as the Committee continues its privacy hearings and considers legislation," said Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

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