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Privacy Legislation: A Solution In Search of a Problem

Today, US Senators convened another hearing to discuss the need for new privacy legislation. One of the underlying themes was whether “privacy legislation is a solution in search of a problem.”  But today this question remains unanswered.

At the start of the hearing Senator Kerry asked the FTC, FCC, and Department of Commerce “What is the harm that new privacy legislation will solve?” – a question that should have been asked last year at the beginning of this entire process.  Each of the respondents failed to identify a specific harm that consumers now endure.

The FTC dodged the question about harm to consumers and instead talked about how consumer privacy concerns are preventing adoption of the Internet.  But even this dodge does not show a need for legislation.

Empirical evidence shows more and more consumers are going online as Cyber Monday has higher sales than Black Friday.  So even if consumers are concerned about the collection and use of their online privacy, it’s not stopping their use of the Internet.

Empirical evidence shows more and more consumers are going online as Cyber Monday has higher sales than Black Friday.  So even if consumers are concerned about the collection and use of their online privacy, it’s not stopping their use of the Internet.

Failing to answer the threshold question of this entire discussion, where is the harm to consumers, the Senate turned from asking questions of the regulators to hearing from industry.  Senator Rockefeller seemed surprised to learn that under a Do Not Track regime, like the one in his proposed legislation, consumers might see more ads than they do now.  Perhaps this was something that required more consideration by the Senator before he introduced legislation.

At the conclusion of this hearing many posed questions were left unanswered.  How are consumers harmed by a lack of legislation, what type of privacy legislation do we need, and most importantly, do we need any privacy legislation?  After six months of discussions, hearings, and proposed bills, these questions should have answers.  But perhaps the lack of answers shows that privacy legislation is a solution in search of a problem.

-Carl Szabo

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