(Extensions of Remarks - June 20, 1996)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1145-E1146]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []



                         HON. EDWARD J. MARKEY

                            of massachusetts

                    in the house of representatives

                        Thursday, June 20, 1996

  Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce the ``Communications 
Privacy and Consumer Empowerment Act. The issue of privacy in the 
information age and in particular, children's privacy protection, is 
quite timely as the Nation becomes ever more linked by communications 
networks, such as the Internet. It is important that we tackle these 
issues now before we travel down the information superhighway too far 
and realize perhaps we've made a wrong turn.
  Thomas Mann once said, ``A great truth is a truth whose opposite is 
also a great truth.''
  The great truth of the Information Age is that the wire--and I use 
the term ``wire'' as shorthand for any telecommunications 
infrastructure such as phone, cable, computer, or wireless networks--
the wondrous wire that brings new services to homes, businesses, and 
schools will have a certain Dickensian quality to it: It will be the 
best of wires and the worst of wires.
  It can uplift society as well as debase it. It can allow people to 
telecommute to work and obtain distance learning classes. New digital 
technologies and other innovations allow corporations to become more 
efficient workers more productive, and businesses to conduct commerce 
almost effortlessly in digital dollars.
  This same technology however, will avail corporate America of the 
opportunity to track the clickstream of a citizen of the Net, to sneak 
corporate hands into a personal information cookie jar and use this 
database to compile sophisticated, highly personal consumer profiles of 
people's hobbies, buying habits, financial information, health 
information, who they contact or converse with, when and for how long. 
In short, that wondrous wire may also allow digital desperadoes to roam 
the electronic frontier unchecked by any high technology sheriff or 
adherence to any code of electronic ethics.
  It is this issue of hijacking personal information that we are 
concerned about and we are obviously concerned when kids are the 
  The issue of child and adult privacy in an electronic environment, 
must find its ultimate solution in a carefully conceived and crafted 
combination of technology, industry action, government oversight or 
  Without question, the issues posed by advances in digital 
communications technology are tremendously complex. Again, how best to 
protect kids is a complex issue. How to put teeth into privacy 
protections is also important to figure out. What may have worked for 
privacy protection or parental empowerment in the phone or cable or TV 
industry may not adequately serve as a model when these technologies 
converge. Therefore I believe we must pursue other alternatives.
  We must recognize that children's privacy is a subset of a parent's 
privacy rights. The bill I am introducing today is premised on the 
belief that regardless of the technology that consumers use, their 
privacy rights and expectations remain a constant. Whether they are 
using a phone, a TV clicker, a satellite dish, or a modem, every 
consumer should enjoy a Privacy Bill of Rights for the Information Age. 
These core rights are embodied in a proposal I have advocated for many 
years and I call it ``Knowledge, Notice and No.''
  In short, consumers and parents should get the following three basic 
  First, knowledge that information is being collected about them. This 
is very important because digital technologies increasingly allow 
people to electronically glean personal information about users 
surreptitiously. I would note here that many Internet browsers, for 
example, use ``cookies''--a technology that can identify and tag an 
online user--unbeknownst to the user--and keep track of what Web sites 
a person visits.
  Second, adequate and conspicuous notice that any personal information 
collected is intended by the recipient for reuse or sale.
  Third, and, the right of a consumer to say ``no'' and to curtail or 
prohibit such reuse or sale of their personal information.
  The National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA] 
has been actively studying how to safeguard telecommunications-related 
personal information. ``Privacy and the NII,'' an analysis completed by 
NTIA in October of 1995, documented a number of areas where personal 
privacy protections varied depending upon which network carrier 
provided a telecommunications service. For example, the Cable Act 
requires cable operators to notify subscribers at the time of 
subscription of the operator's information practices and generally 
prohibits an operator from disclosure of personal data. Such 
protections, however do not extend to video services offered by DBS 
providers or wireless cable operators. Under the legislation I am 
introducing today, the FCC will be tasked with harmonizing the privacy 
protections across board so that strong, tough privacy policies exist 
regardless of the technology that a consumer uses to obtain a service.

  The bill is structured in a way that will first ascertain whether 
there are technological tools that can empower consumers and parents.

[[Page E1146]]

The bill also requests the agencies to determine if there are industry 
standards and practices that embody this electronic Privacy Bill of 
Rights. Where technological tools don't exist, or where a particular 
industry refuses to embrace this code of electronic ethics in a way 
that solves the problem, then the Government is obliged to step in and 
reinforce protection of privacy rights.
  I implore the industry to act swiftly because the current situation 
is utterly unsustainable. The same libertarian quality that has 
stimulated such rapid growth of the Internet gravely threatens to 
cripple its promise. It is chaotic, free, and open, but has spawned an 
exponential increase in commercial voyeurism that is tearing privacy 
rights asunder. While Jack Kerouac would have a fine time joyriding 
from site to site on the World Wide Web, I believe that many, many 
citizens of the Net would be particularly troubled to find that their 
personal data--their usage of the World Wide Web itself--can be and is 
being tracked. At risk is consumer confidence in the medium. When 
consumer confidence plummets so will economic activity on the Internet.
  My legislation will establish ``Knowledge, Notice, and No'' as the 
goal and will require Government action where the technology or the 
industry fail to adequately protect consumers and kids.