- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

Senators yesterday overwhelmingly supported strengthening Internet-privacy laws to protect personal data that people provide Web sites.
At the first hearing on Internet privacy since Democrats took over the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Democrats and Republicans left little doubt that they favor drafting privacy legislation this year.
"We didn't manage to resolve the debate last year. I hope we can this year," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. "I remain convinced a federal law is needed."
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said he plans to introduce a new bill with Mr. McCain that will be more thorough than the privacy legislation they introduced last year. He also said changes need to be made to protect financial and medical data online.
"The mistake we made last year was that we ignored financial and medical privacy. It's clear … that financial information deserves the most privacy you can give it," Mr. Kerry said.
Internet-privacy hearings in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed by Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, have not included the same zeal for legislation, and the strong support for a privacy law from the Senate panel gave consumer advocates confidence.
"We view this as a very good development for privacy," Frank Torres, legislative council for the D.C.-based Consumers Union, said after the Senate hearing.
Congress passed the last major online-privacy bill in 1998. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act is intended to protect the privacy of children ages 12 and younger by requiring online companies to get approval from parents before collecting personal data from them.
Mr. Kerry's call for greater financial and medical privacy comes in the wake of Eli Lilly & Co.'s disclosure Monday that it inadvertently revealed over the Internet the e-mail addresses of more than 600 people who buy Prozac, an anti-depressant the Indianapolis-based company makes.
The company revealed e-mail addresses of people who signed up on the company's Web site for e-mail reminding them to take the drug.
Mr. Kerry's request to strengthen privacy laws also comes after consumer groups criticized financial institutions last month for sending deceptive privacy notices to consumers and failing to protect the personal information of their customers.
Congress enacted the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act in November 1999, and it offers modest privacy protection for consumers by preventing unlimited sharing of personal information. The law says consumers can "opt out" by not having personal data shared with unaffiliated companies.
Just 5 percent of the estimated 1 billion consumers who have received privacy notices in the mail have opted out, consumer and privacy groups say.
Mr. Kerry said "opt-in" provisions which require consumer consent before Web sites can collect personal data may be best suited to protecting a consumer's financial and medical data. Opt-out provisions may be best for all other Web sites, including online shopping sites, Mr. Kerry said.
But Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat and commerce panel chairman, said Internet-privacy protections for consumers are inadequate and opt-out approaches provide insufficient protection.
Mr. Hollings introduced a bill last year requiring companies to get consent of consumers through an opt-in approach before seeking personal data, and he is expected to reintroduce a similar measure this year.
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, joined the other privacy supporters on the committee yesterday and said he introduced a bill to limit the commercial use of location information from cell phones and other mobile devices.

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