INTERNET PRIVACY: Report on Violations Spurs Government Concern
The California HealthCare Foundation's report detailing consumer privacy violations by health Web sites "caught government officials and privacy enforcement groups off guard" and "underscored the growing policy debate over whether federal officials and private groups can adequately police such a fast-growing and constantly changing new medium," the New York Times reports. In the five years that the FTC has been monitoring e-commerce, few privacy violations have been reported and none of the privacy certification and oversight groups has ever revoked a "seal of approval" for a member Web site. Jason Catlett, president of the privacy consulting group Junkbusters Corporation, said the report -- released last week -- shows that officials "are not keeping pace with the Internet explosion." He added, "If you count the number of people in charge of enforcement and look at the growth of e-commerce sites, any way you measure it you'd come to the conclusion that protection is not keeping up -- if indeed it was ever adequate." The FTC refused to comment on the survey, but according to one official who asked to remain anonymous, the agency is "taking these concerns very seriously." A special FTC advisory committee met Friday to begin writing a report to Congress "on what steps companies should take to keep their databases secure and how much access consumers should have to the data collected about them." Dave Steer, spokesperson for the privacy certification firm TRUSTe, said that despite the "troubling" news, the government should retain its "hands-off" policy when it comes to Internet regulation since new technologies can quickly outpace laws. But Catlett believes that "baseline laws" are necessary to dictate what companies are allowed to do with private information collected online. Self-regulation policies imply, "'Do whatever you want or do as little as you want.' That's exactly the wrong message to send to companies that have strong economic incentives to collect and use personal information," he said (Clausing, 2/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.