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April 26, 2001
Dear Congressional Internet Caucus Member,
Today the Internet Caucus will hold a meeting to discuss
privacy issues. I am writing to you because it is my view that on the
privacy issue the Caucus is largely out of touch with the concerns of
the American public. Instead of looking at the wide range of privacy
issues confronting the Internet, including the need to establish
legal rights to protect the interests of Internet users, the Caucus
has chosen instead to focus on the very narrow subject of "choice"
which has little to do with genuine privacy protection.
There is clearly public support for Internet privacy
legislation. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, "86% of Internet
users are in favor of opt-in privacy policies that require Internet
companies to ask people for permission to use personal information"
and "94% of Internet users want privacy violators to be disciplined."
Businessweek found that 57% of Americans believe that "the government
should pass laws now for how personal information can be collected
and used on the Internet." (Emphasis added.) Other recent studies
from Forrester Research, PricewatershouseCooper, and Privacy and
American Business underscore the need for privacy legislation.
There is also bipartisan support for privacy protection. In the
last several weeks, President Bush has agreed to implement medical
privacy regulations developed by President Clinton. Attorney General
Ashcroft has met with privacy advocates to discuss new safeguards for
electronic surveillance. Democratic and Republican Members have
introduced many bills to safeguard privacy. The non-partisan Privacy
Coalition has urged support for a Privacy Pledge that includes strong
Fair Information Practices, independent enforcement and oversight,
genuine Privacy Enhancing Technologies, restrictions on surveillance
technology, and a "solid foundation of federal privacy
But Internet privacy problems are increasing. The problem of
online profiling remains unresolved. Internet users today still have
no legal protection against the surreptitious collection of personal
information and tracking of their activities online. There are also
new privacy challenges facing the Net such as wireless services that
if not properly designed will enable widespread monitoring and
surveillance of consumers who use new technologies to access the
I have enclosed for you and your staff a copy of The Privacy
Law Sourcebook, which includes the texts of many US privacy laws. You
will see that over that last thirty years most privacy law in this
country has come about in response to new technologies &endash;
databases in the federal government, cable television, electronic
mail, videotape rental, automation of medical records. This is an
important tradition to carry forward with the new challenges to
privacy created by the Internet.
The Internet Caucus owes the public and its members' constituents
a broader debate on the protection of privacy and the rights of
citizens in the online world.