Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, today renewed his call for new standards to protect Americans' private information at a Senate Commerce Committee Hearing entitled "Consumer Privacy and Protection in the Mobile Marketplace."
"I reject the notion that privacy is the enemy of innovation," Senator Kerry said. "We need to establish what the proper treatment of people's information is. We cannot continue to leave it to firms alone to decide that on an ad hoc basis."
Last month Senator Kerry joined with Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to introduce The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, which would establish a framework to protect the personal information of all Americans.
Senator Kerry's full statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Mr. Chairman, thank you. Today's hearing is an opportunity for all of us to make clear where we stand on the relationship between communications, innovation, technology, and privacy.
We all marvel at the power and potential of the Internet. I support the National Broadband Plan and releasing more spectrum for wireless broadband because I want to see that potential unleashed everywhere as rapidly as possible. I also support investments in research and development and immigration policies that will bring the world's most talented people to America to startup the world's most innovative firms. And the companies we will hear from today are in that esteemed category.
I understand the instinct inside these companies which says, "Washington -- just leave us alone."
I've always been guided by the belief that in a technology market that's moving so rapidly, in many cases that's actually the right approach. Indeed, some of the legislative approaches Washington considered way back in the late 1990's to protect privacy would've been eclipsed by the industry's own innovations -- and might well have slowed technological advances that actually empowered consumers.
But we're in a different place today. Today we need companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook to join companies like Intel, eBay, Microsoft, and HP which have already come down on the side of common sense privacy protections. We need industry leaders to engage constructively in our legislative efforts to modernize our privacy laws, not to berate them, because we want legislation that will work both for entrepreneurs and consumers. I have reached out to the companies here today over the last six or seven months and appreciate the time they have taken to work with us so far.
Mr. Chairman, I reject the notion that privacy is the enemy of innovation. It is not. In fact, a more trusted information economy will encourage greater consumer participation and in turn, more and better services delivered in a safer commercial environment more respectful of users.
And in the end, though not in a heavy-handed, overly prescriptive approach, I still believe that companies collecting people's information -- tech titan or not -- should comply with a basic code of conduct. We need to establish what we as a society believe constitutes the proper treatment of people's information. We cannot continue to leave it to firms to decide that on an ad hoc basis. That is particularly true in an age when the mini supercomputers in our pockets are with us at all times and almost always on. But it is also true on our computers at home and offline when we buy groceries or travel.
Today, there is no privacy law for general commerce. Data collectors alone are setting the rules. In S.799, the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, Senator McCain and I, along with Senator Klobuchar, seek to change that. We propose rules based on fair information practice principles for all collectors of information, including mobile phone and mobile app companies. Those basic principles include the idea that regardless of the technology or method used to track Americans, they should know when they are being tracked, why, and how long that information will be used. They should also know with whom that information will be shared and be able to reject or accept those practices. And they need legal protections if that respect is not granted to them or if those terms are violated.
The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights would allow for flexibility for industry in complying with these principles by establishing voluntary safe harbor programs to allow companies to design their own privacy programs free from prescriptive regulation if their programs reach equal levels of protection.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today on their privacy views and practices, as well as how they asses the legislation Senator McCain and I have put forward and the ideas other legislators here and in the states have proposed.