July 7, 2011 | By Adi Kamdar

EFF Urges Senators to Recognize Need for Updated Privacy Laws

EFF and other privacy and consumer groups like Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Consumer Action have publicly responded to industry allegations that effective privacy regulations would harm the economy and innovation. A letter by sixteen trade groups—including the American Advertising Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—addressed to party heads of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, urged senators to ignore needed changes in privacy laws. The privacy coalition took issue with these claims, pointing to the very real privacy harms suffered by consumers online. Currently, most users are unaware of the pervasive nature of online tracking—and have no way to stop it. Helping consumers feel confident in their privacy will encourage innovation in the digital environment, spurring a robust online economy.

Americans’ privacy is under siege in the current online ecosystem. Companies with large troves of sensitive information have suffered data breaches left and right, putting consumers at risk of identity theft. Because much of what we do online is protected First Amendment activity—reading, speaking, writing, associating—we must expect significant government interest in that data as well. Yet users cannot easily block unwanted tracking programs—assuming they know about them in the first place. The letter that EFF signed onto explains the lack of proper privacy protection in current law, the innovative opportunities of pro-privacy technologies, and the importance of updating privacy law to address new trends in technology—supercookies and browser fingerprinting, location-based services, and behavioral tracking, to name a few.

For example, EFF has supported Do Not Track technologies and policies that would protect consumers from hidden third parties who track users. The proposed technology is simple: a machine-readable header that tells websites that you do not want to be tracked. On the policy end, EFF has supported a regulatory framework whereby companies respect a consumer's wishes not to be tracked by third-party sites. Do Not Track is a response to the failure of self-regulatory mechanisms to protect consumers from invasive tracking programs by third-party sites.

The pro-privacy letter to the Senate Committee says:

The industry groups that wrote to you hope that you will be satisfied with the status quo, that you will ignore the mounting evidence of identity theft and data breaches, and that you will simply allow things to continue as they have.
We urge you to reject that view. We are firmly committed to innovation and economic growth and we share the enthusiasm that new technologies and new businesses generate. But it is clear that there must be stronger safeguards in place to protect the interests of consumers and Internet users. The self-regulatory 'notice and choice' approach has simply failed.

Check out our full letter.


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