Congress is just beginning the complex process of developing legislation to protect consumer privacy, while nurturing innovation in products and services. An important way to achieve the delicate balance between encouraging technology and preserving privacy is for Congress to expand the capabilities of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ensure that it can keep up with the rapidly evolving marketplace.In the mid- to late-1990s, the FTC began reviewing how websites collected and managed consumers' personally identifiable information. This led to the creation of a set of self-regulatory rules, known as the Fair Information Practice Principles, which created four basic obligations, such as that consumers must be notified as to whether their online information is being collected.
Now, the FTC should be provided with the discretion and flexibility to adapt, update and strengthen the Fair Information Practice Principles, as well as its own role in safeguarding consumer privacy in response to changing technologies and consumer needs.The FTC, in partnership with the private sector, should create privacy notices that are easy to read and understand, in conjunction with an education campaign to inform consumers about their rights. Congress, meanwhile, should provide the FTC with the resources to create an online consumer protection bureau that focuses exclusively on online crimes.
As policymakers continue to deliberate the best path for balancing the various stakeholder interests around the issue of online privacy, they must remember that any proposed legislation should not be absolute. The current set of privacy principles adopted by the FTC has worked well for over a decade and should serve as a framework for any new legislation.