MRA joined a broad coalition yesterday in opposition to ill-considered privacy provisions that had been quietly inserted into the FY 2013 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill in the Senate. The coalition letter arrived just in time for the Senate Appropriations Committee's meeting on the bill.
The Financial Services Subcommittee's version of the legislation, as passed on June 13, included a potentially problematic provision:
"Protecting Consumer Privacy Online -- The Committee notes the important role that the FCC plays in creating an environment that fosters technological innovation but also protects consumer privacy. More than 500,000 new jobs have been created from the Apps Economy over the last 3 years, for example, but there have also been widespread reports of sensitive, personally identifiable consumer information being compromised, sometimes intentionally, by major companies. The Committee directs the FCC to work with the FTC and issue guidance to consumers on best practices for protecting personal information transmitted over wireless networks, including through encryption and other practices. The Committee further directs the FCC to study the privacy policies governing the collection and use of personal information online by major communications companies and issue guidance on best practices for disclosing the terms and conditions of these policies in written agreements that are concise, user friendly, and easily understood."
While the first requirement, consumer education, seems fine, MRA and many other groups were concerned that the requirement for the study and regulation of privacy practices was out of the regular order of consideration and without a grounding in legislative hearings and Congressional authorization. The language was added without public discussion or debate. While MRA supports a baseline privacy law standard, it is unclear what might result from such a vague and unauthorized directive in the federal funding process.
During debate, we were grateful that Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) raised concerns about this provision and offered our coalition letter into the record. We hope that this will help lead the Committee to remove this language before the legislation is sent to the Senate floor for further consideration.