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Source: USA Today

Posted on August 2, 2000

      John McCain, the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, and Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts introduced an online privacy bill that would require Web sites to alert consumers when personal data is being collected.

      The bill would require companies to tell users up front whether their names, addresses, social security numbers, or other personal information will be collected. The Web sites also would have to let visitors know if the data will be sold to third parties, such as advertising and marketing companies.

      The legislation would give certain Internet companies, such as free online news sites, the right to exclude online visitors who object to giving out their personal information.

      The bill is among several that have been introduced this year as lawmakers and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission address what they call the failure of Internet companies to regulate themselves.

      "This issue is becoming increasingly important,'' to Americans, McCain said at a press conference.

      McCain and Kerry said they wanted to strike a balance between consumers' rights and business interests so the Internet would remain a largely free service.

      Web sites that offer content - as opposed to marketing goods - largely are subsidized by selling their visitors' information and that practice has generated criticism from privacy advocates. Many Web surfers don't know that their online travels are being tracked through software programs.

      The bill would empower the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to impose fines on companies that violate the privacy law.

      ''It is now up to us in the Congress to establish a floor for Internet privacy,'' Kerry said.

      Under the legislation, an online clothing store must let a consumer buy a shirt even if the buyer refuses to offer personal data. Companies such as the many free news, information, entertainment and hobby sites can decline to give free information to people who won't let personal data be gathered.

      The McCain-Kerry bill is also being co-sponsored by Senator Spencer Abraham, a Michigan Republican, and Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

      Experts say it will be difficult to pass any online privacy legislation during the closing weeks of this congressional session due to a lack of time and consensus.

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