Muris Says Better Enforcement of Current Rules Needed

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Federal Trade Commission Chairman Tim Muris today unveiled his privacy agenda, and as expected, he pulled back from his predecessor's call for immediate legislation on adult privacy.

In a speech today at the Cleveland Privacy 2001 Conference, Mr. Muris said additional information needed to be gathered before any legislation could be crafted.

"It is too soon to conclude that we can fashion workable legislation," he said. "We need to develop better information about how such legislation would work and the costs and benefits it would generate."

Problematic law
Mr. Muris said one reason for delaying action was due to some of the problems that resulted from 1999's Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires all financial institutions to disclose to customers their policies and practices for protecting the privacy of non-public personal information.

"The recent experience with Gramm-Leach-Bliley privacy notices should give everyone pause about whether we know enough to implement

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barely comprehensible privacy notices. Acres of trees died to produce a blizzard of barely comprehensible privacy notices."

Instead Mr. Muris announced a stepped-up enforcement of a wide range of existing privacy regulations, including plans to require telemarketers to use a national "do not call" list.

Other steps include increased enforcement against spam, or junk e-mail; helping victims of ID theft through a series of measures including a universal fraud affidavit; efforts to stamp out pretexting; and new attention to enforcing Internet privacy policies.

Mr. Muris also said the FTC would more actively enforce its telemarketing sales rule; part of that effort would be to see that telemarketers don't misuse credit card information acquired before they talk to customers to charge them for goods without their clear knowledge.

Marketers pleased
Marketing lawyers were generally pleased with Mr. Muris' stance, though there were some questions regarding the FTC's legal authority to require marketers use the do-not-call list.

"It's a solid, well-considered agenda," said John Kamp, a Washington advertising lawyer who has worked extensively on privacy issues. "It's tough on liars, cheaters and scammers with no new rules that hurt honest businesses and consumers. The toughest new announcement for mainstream marketers is the assertion that the FTC will enforce privacy promises."

Ron Plesser, a Washington lawyer who represents several industry associations, said that with the exception of the telemarketing change, the rest of the speech was good.

"The idea of increased enforcement, working on pretexting are very positive," he said.

The delay in seeking legislation is likely to be controversial in Congress, where calls to take action on the issue have been heard in the House and the Senate.

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