June 20, 1996 - Issue: Vol. 142, No. 92 — Daily Edition104th Congress (1995 - 1996) - 2nd Session
COMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY AND CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 142, No. 92
(Extensions of Remarks - June 20, 1996)
Text available as:
Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.
[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E1145-E1146] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] COMMUNICATIONS PRIVACY AND CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT ACT ______ 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 target. 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 regulation. 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 rights: 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. ____________________