FTC working on new privacy guidelines

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  is working on drafting a set of “guiding principles” outlining how businesses should handle certain privacy issues, an FTC official said Wednesday at a privacy and security law event in New York.

Over the past several months, the agency has held three public roundtables to explore the privacy challenges facing businesses that collect and use consumer data, said Leonard Gordon, director of the FTC's Northeast regional office, speaking at the New York City Bar event. The commission is now culling through hundreds of comments received during the roundtable process.

The FTC wants businesses to create more transparent privacy policies, Gordon said. Typically, organizations contract with law firms to create these policies, which turn out to be lengthy and confusing.

But by the end of the summer, the FTC hopes to release a set of best practices that outline how policies should be drafted, what type of content should be included in them, how they should be displayed to consumers and how organizations can best implement them.

In addition, the guidelines will give lawmakers an idea about what the FTC thinks privacy legislation should include, Gordon said.

As privacy laws evolve, the topic has increasingly become part of most lawyers' practices, said Alan Chapell, co-chairman of the New York Bar privacy and security program and president of New York-based privacy consultancy Alan Chapell & Associates.  

Privacy issues affect all organizations that collect the personal information of consumers or employees, said co-chairman Gary Kibel, a partner at New York-based law firm David & Gilbert.

“Privacy is such a huge topic now, covering every industry that exists,” he said.

One of those is social networking. On Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the FTC to examine recent changes Facebook made to extend its presence on the web that have led to privacy concerns. Schumer, along with Democratic Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Mike Bennett of Colorado, also asked officials to issue guidelines ensuring that all social media companies protect user's privacy.

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