Mixed reaction to Muris' privacy delay

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Federal Trade Commission Chairman Tim Muris won mixed reviews last week when he recommended delaying new privacy legislation and stepping up enforcement of existing laws.

"It sends the kind of legislative message that ... may be counterproductive in some instances," said FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson, one of two Democratic commissioners to speak out last week. Commissioner Sheila Anthony said she didn't believe Mr. Muris "has made the case for the commission to depart from its earlier legislative recommendation."

"We respectfully disagree with the chairman," said Ken Johnson, an aide to U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, (R., La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "It is becoming increasingly clear that some basic safeguards are necessary and there is a very good possibility that we will introduce a bill this year."

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings, (D., S.C.), said "This flies in the face of five years of FTC studies and analyses that clearly demonstrated such legislation is necessary."

Under former FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, the FTC was divided 3 to 2 on party lines, and in May recommended Congress enact privacy legislation.

Mr. Muris, who in June succeeded Mr. Pitofsky, until now had deferred taking a privacy position. But last week he said research and better enforcement by the FTC was necessary before the agency seeks further legislation. Marketing advocates were generally pleased. "His view is generally consistent with ours," said H. Robert Wientzen, president-CEO of the Direct Marketing Association. "We were not unhappy on balance but we do have some concerns in the teleservices area," namely regarding the FTC's authority to require marketers to use a national "do not call" list.

"It's a solid well-considered agenda," said John Kamp, a Washington ad lawyer and former American Association of Advertising Agencies executive. "I am actually very pleased [with the enforcement aspect]. It's a great start to his tenure," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters.com, a leading privacy advocate, who nonetheless added that Mr. Muris' "lack of recommendation of legislation is spiritually disappointing."

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