Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, today release a statement on a Commerce Committee hearing on the privacy of consumers online. Senator Kerry pledged to pursue legislation to give people more control over how their personal information is collected and distributed online.
"Protecting the privacy of consumers online involves much more than the targeted advertising to which they are subjected," Senator Kerry said. "Such advertising is just one result of the information that is routinely collected about us online.
Kerry continued, "And as a matter of law, we need new baseline standards for privacy protection that ensure people's identity is treated with the respect it deserves. Our counterparts in the House have introduced legislation and I intend to work with Senator Pryor and others to do the same on this side."
Senator Kerry's opening statement as prepared for delivery is below:
Protecting the privacy of consumers online involves much more than the targeted advertising to which they are subjected. Such advertising is just one result of the information that is routinely collected about us online. In fact, the threat to our privacy is much more significant than the amount of data being collected, stored, and distributed about what we view, buy, or sell online. Our ability to control what information is collected, used, and disclosed about us is central to how we want the world to view us, and that, in turn, affects our ability to seek out opportunity in both social and economic spheres. But currently, there is widespread confusion among our constituents and colleagues about what power we have over those practices.
The information that firms are collecting about us may be incorrect or out of context, leading to completely incorrect conclusions. Or it may be correct and in context, but without some time limit on its existence or without the ability to explain or to make right, an error of youth or poor judgment can haunt a person forever. Or, information can be meant for a specific audience and misunderstood if broadly distributed, leading to harm and a violation of our ability to present ourselves to the world on our own terms.
Take the single example of a cancer survivor who uses a social network to connect with other cancer survivors and share her story. That story is not meant for her employer or everyone she emails, or marketers of medical products promising herbal cures. Misapplied and poorly distributed, this information could lead to a lost job opportunity or higher insurance rates. Even distributed without malice this information could pigeonhole her identity as a cancer survivor--which may not be how she wants to face the world. Controlling the distribution of that information should be her right. Whether or not she acts to protect its distribution, private firms should start with the premise that they should treat her and her information with respect. The fact that no law limits the collection of this information or its distribution is a problem that threatens an individual's sense of self.
The solution to the new challenge to our identity lies in culture, technology, and law. As a matter of culture, we will need to grow more tolerant and be less quick to reach conclusions. As a matter of technology, firms should challenge themselves to design products and engineer services with high default standards for protecting privacy in mind. And as a matter of law, we need new baseline standards for privacy protection that ensure people's identity is treated with the respect it deserves.
Our counterparts in the House have introduced legislation and I intend to work with Senator Pryor and others to do the same on this side with the goal of passing legislation early in the next Congress. The Commerce Committee, under Chairman Hollings a decade ago, considered similar privacy legislation. We have learned a great deal more about this issue over the past decade and working together I believe we will successfully enact this legislation next year.