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Self-regulation hasn't protected consumers: experts

Source: NationalPost.com

Posted on November 21, 2000

      The United States will likely introduce new privacy legislation next year that will give consumers new legal rights to protect personal information and put new responsibilities on businesses that wish to use that information in the marketplace.

      But the United States is unlikely to create the office of a privacy commissioner, as Canada and some European countries have done.

      While Canada, the European Union and other jurisdictions around the world have or will soon adopt new laws governing the use of personal information held in digital databases, the United States has resisted such an approach, preferring instead to see if industries could regulate their own behaviour. But experts gathered in Quebec for a privacy conference this week agreed yesterday that self-regulation in the United States has failed to provide adequate protection for consumers.

      "Self-regulation is not working in this space," said Larry Ponemon, a Washington-based partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC. "The litigation machine is starting to heat up."

      Mozelle Thompson, a commissioner with the powerful U.S. Federal Trade Commission, said he believes legislation in the next session of Congress, set to convene in January, is a likely possibility because many of those elected earlier this month campaigned in favour of tougher regulations to protect online privacy.

      "We need some tools to get at those places that self-regulation isn't going to reach," Mr. Thompson said. "We are very supportive of self-regulation models and any legislative model would allow those proposals to stand."

      The FTC has already recommended to U.S. lawmakers that new legislation ought to be built around four core elements: notice, choice, access and security.

      Consumers need to be told in plain, clear language about a company's privacy policies; they need to be able to choose what information a company can use or divulge; they should have the right to access personal information held by an organization; and companies must ensure that there are adequate security measures in place to protect personal information.

      It seems likely the United States will look to consolidate existing regulations and legislation in a more broadly based bill, similar in scope to Canada's Bill C-6, which becomes law on Jan. 1. The Canadian law will govern the circumstances under which companies will be able to share, trade, and sell personal information about consumers.

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