Statement on House Privacy Discussion Draft

by on May 4, 2010 · 11 comments

Today, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, released its long-awaited online privacy bill discussion draft, requiring that users opt-in to certain types of online data collection. Berin Szoka and I issued the following statement in response:

By mandating a hodge-podge of restrictive regulatory defaults, policymakers could unintentionally devastate the “free” Internet as we know it. Because the Digital Economy is fueled by advertising and data collection, a “privacy industrial policy” for the Internet would diminish consumer choice in ad-supported content and services, raise prices, quash digital innovation, and hurt online speech platforms enjoyed by Internet users worldwide.

Before imposing prophylactic regulation, policymakers should first identify specific consumer harm that requires government intervention. They should next ask whether there are less restrictive alternatives to regulation, such as enhancing enforcement of existing laws, bolstering limitations on government access to online data, education efforts about online privacy, and promoting the development and uptake of technological empowerment solutions that allow users to manage their own privacy preferences.

This layered approach recognizes that privacy varies across users and depending on context, and that there’s no escaping the trade-off between locking down information and the many benefits for consumers associated with the free flow of information. Simply put, there is no free lunch when it comes to online media and services. While the discussion draft deserves proper consideration, we feel its regulatory requirements may do more harm than help the growth of the Internet and the secure Internet services demanded by Americans.

We’ll have a lengthy analysis of the bill coming out shortly. This is something we’ve spent quite a bit of time writing about in recent years and you can find the dozens of studies we’ve penned about the perils of heavy-handed privacy regulation on the PFF website here. Probably the best summary of our views is contained in the comments that Berin filed on behalf of PFF as part of the Federal Trade Commission’s Exploring Privacy Roundtable series: Privacy Trade-Offs: How Further Regulation Could Diminish Consumer Choice, Raise Prices, Quash Digital Innovation & Curtail Free Speech.

Stay tuned, much more to come on this front, and PFF will be on top of it.

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