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Boucher to release privacy bill

Ahead of the expected release Tuesday of a House privacy bill, a group of public interest and privacy groups wrote House members Monday calling on them to support the inclusion of principles aimed at giving consumers more control over their personal information.

House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., is expected to release his long awaited data privacy bill Tuesday. The legislation is expected to address concerns about consumer privacy given the growing use of online behavioral advertising, which involves using data about a consumer's Web surfing habits to target ads to them. Boucher detailed the bill's provisions Monday during a speech at the American Business Media's annual conference in Charleston, S.C. According to a news release from the group, Boucher said the bill would apply to the collection of personal information from consumers both online and offline and "initially require that all Web sites that collect information from consumers give consumers notice with respect to what information is collected, how it is used, who it is shared with, and the circumstances under which it is shared."

It added that Boucher said it would require firms to allow consumers to "opt out" of having such information collected, which means that firms would be allowed to collect and use data unless consumers specifically request that it not be collected. He said unaffiliated third-party Web sites that "gather information from consumers across multiple unaffiliated Web sites" would be required to gain specific consent from consumers before using and collecting data from them, as would those who seek to use senstive personal information such as medical or financial data.

Boucher's spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment on the American Business Media report. Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said if the report is accurate it is "a blow to consumer protection."

Chester's group and 10 others wrote House lawmakers saying that privacy legislation should include the Fair Information Principles, which allow consumers to "control their personal information, help to protect human dignity, hold accountable organizations that collect personal data, promote good business practices, and limit the risk of identity theft." In addition to these, they also called on lawmakers to ensure that data used in online behavioral advertising cannot be linked to an individual's name or address and also can't be linked to them through an Internet protocol address, cookie or other identifier.

In addition, the groups called for ensuring that sensitive information, which the FTC should define, such as health or financial records cannot be used for behavioral advertising; Websites should only be able to use data for behavioral advertising within 24 hours after obtaining consent to use it; Web sites should tell users what they plan to use the data for at the time it is collected; and allow users to find out which online firms have data about them, to see the data and correct it if necessary.

"Companies engaged in behavioral targeting routinely monitor individuals, the searches they make, the Web pages they visit, the content they view, their interactions on social networking sites, the content of their emails, and the products and services they purchase," according to the letter also signed by such groups as the Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. They added that "Consumers have rights, and profiling should have limits."

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