SENATOR TO UNVEIL SCALED-BACK PRIVACY BILL

Individuals Can Sue Companies for Disclosing 'Sensitive' Information

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- After months of discussion, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee will introduce a new version of his online privacy bill Thursday and quickly move to get it to the Senate floor, aides said today.

Somewhat less sweeping than legislation the chairman, Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., introduced last year, the new bill could still mean major changes for online marketers, including the threat of lawsuits from individuals for actions that disclosed "sensitive" information and caused them harm.

'Sensitive' information
Under the bill,

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marketers that want to collect sensitive information for the first time would have to get consumers' consent to "opt in" before they can collect, use, disclose or sell the information. The bills defines such sensitive data as health information, Social Security numbers, certain financial information or information on race, ethnicity, political affiliation, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

Marketers who collect personally identifiable information would have to provide notice at specific times during a transaction.

Sen. Hollings' legislation would give consumers the right to access their personal information -- companies could charge a $3 fee for the priviledge -- but doesn't require businesses to make changes to the data.

One win for marketers
The legislation gives one major win to marketers, saying that while state attorneys general could enforce the law, the national legislation would preempt similar state laws.

Aides today described the legislation as a U.S. version of the European Union's privacy directive, but with some things taken out to reflect U.S. law and needs. Aides said many of the details regarding how the act would be administered would be left to the Federal Trade Commission and other federal agencies.

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation April 25, and aides said that Sen. Hollings hopes to proceed with the legislation soon thereafter.

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