HOUSE UNVEILS LATEST PRIVACY BILL

Takes Narrower Approach to Protecting Consumers' Personal Information

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The chairman of a House Energy and Commerce panel today introduced privacy legislation that would for the first time affect offline as well as online marketers.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., joined a bipartisan group of legislators in unveiling the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, which is aimed at the collection of personally identifiable data.

While the bill is broader than similar legislation introduced in the Senate by Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-N.C., because it covers offline and online marketers, the House proposal takes a much narrower view of how it aims to protect a consumer's personal information.

The bill wouldn't apply

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to financial institutions and medical records protected under other privacy laws. Marketers would get wide latitude in sharing information with outside companies without having to make separate disclosures. Also, the Federal Trade Commission could be banned from fining any marketer that releases personal information publicly if the release is accidental and the company is part of an industry self-regulatory program.

The House proposal would also ban states from passing tougher privacy legislation than federal provisions. The bill would require marketers above a certain size, even those offline, to have a privacy policy.

Legislators at a press conference to unveil the bill suggested that the limits placed on FTC action may have been written overbroadly and could be changed in a final version.

Rep. Stearns said the decision to include offline as well as online marketing reflects concerns that consumers have and will help to promote consumer confidence. He also said the underlying principle of his legislation is "to do no harm" while promoting privacy and the free flow of information.

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