By Rep. Mary Bono Mack
When it comes to the future of electronic commerce, consumer trust and online privacy are “trending topics” that Americans care very deeply about.
Today, an estimated 250 million people in the United States use the Internet. And last year, e-commerce in the United States topped $200 billion for the first time. But lurking online are hackers, cyber thieves, and even organized crime rings.
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade – and as someone who is also deeply involved in both online privacy issues and consumer protection – I’m very concerned that e-commerce will cease to grow and flourish in the years ahead if Americans lose faith in their ability to be protected from online predators, jeopardizing future innovation as well as our nation’s fragile economic recovery.
One important tool in combating cross-border fraud, spam, and spyware is the U.S. SAFE WEB Act of 2006, which is set to expire next year.
With the strong support of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, the House recently approved my bipartisan legislation – without any opposition – to reauthorize the SAFE WEB Act. It’s critically important now for the Senate to follow our lead.
Working closely with my lead co-sponsor and good friend, Subcommittee Ranking Member G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, H.R. 6131 reauthorizes this important crime-fighting and consumer protection law until 2020.
By any measure, the SAFE WEB Act has been extremely effective, allowing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to better protect U.S. consumers from fraud, deception, spam, and spyware in cross-border cases involving threats originating domestically and abroad.
And to give you an idea of just how well it’s been working – no opposition to reauthorizing the law has been expressed from either the business community or by advocacy groups.
Most importantly, the SAFE WEB Act enhances the FTC’s investigative and enforcement functions by authorizing information sharing with foreign enforcement agencies, something the Commission may not do without clear authorization.
The Act only allows information sharing with countries whose law on data-sharing is substantially similar to that governing the FTC. And the FTC may share data only under conditions where the information will be treated confidentially, and the country will reciprocate information sharing with the FTC.
Clearly, we would be fighting an uphill battle if these critically important consumer protections were not in place.
About a decade ago, the FTC began to highlight the growing problems it encountered in effectively combating Internet scams and fraud directed at American citizens by foreign operators, often times involving organized crime rings.
By 2005, an estimated 20 percent of consumer complaints the FTC received involved fraud originating outside of the United States, costing American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In order to expand its ability to effectively fight online fraud, the FTC sent Congress legislative recommendations in 2005 seeking additional authorities.
Without objection, Congress passed the SAFE WEB Act on December 6, 2006, and it was signed into law two weeks later by President Bush. For American consumers, the SAFE WEB Act has been a clear success, and it should be reauthorized before its expiration next year.
Today, with nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the United States, nearly everyone has a stake in making certain that the Federal Trade Commission has the powers it needs to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware.
Rather than give the FTC more power, the SAFE WEB Act has simply given the FTC the tools it needs to carry out its mission more effectively – and it’s done so without increasing the cost to American taxpayers, new rulemaking, or new investigative authority.
Reauthorizing the SAFE WEB Act as soon as possible will avoid disrupting ongoing investigations, allowing the FTC to continue to pursue cross-border fraud complaints, and to continue important information-sharing agreements with foreign law enforcement agencies.
Simply put, this is a critically important consumer protection law. It enjoys broad bipartisan support. It doesn’t cost any additional money. And the clock’s ticking.
The SAFE WEB Act is good for American consumers. It’s good for the future of e-commerce. And it sends an important signal to the rest of the world that online crooks – no matter where they’re located – will be tracked down and prosecuted.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.