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October 10, 2001
The New Privacy Agenda
Stopping deceptive spam and preventing identity theft are part of the FTC's new agenda to protect consumer privacy

The focus of the Federal Trade Commission's new agenda for protecting consumers' privacy is on consumer education and current policy enforcement rather than new privacy legislation, FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris announced earlier this month.

The privacy agenda "involves every division of the Bureau of Consumer Protection and increases resources devoted to privacy issues by 50%," Muris said in a speech Oct. 4. A Privacy Task Force will be created as part of the initiative as well. The goals of the new privacy agenda include:

  • Protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing by creating a national "do-not-call list" of consumers who do not want to receive telemarketing calls. The FTC also will increase enforcement of the Telemarketing Sales Rule and recommend any necessary amendments.
  • Increasing enforcement against fraudulent and deceptive spam or unsolicited commercial e-mail.
  • Controling identity theft by using the data collected from identity-theft complaints to spot patterns that might help businesses and consumers avoid it. The FTC will also work on ways to help identity theft victims and assist law enforcement agencies with related cases.
  • Increasing prosecution for pretexting, the practice of obtaining personal financial information by fraud.
  • Encouraging accuracy in credit reporting and compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Enforcing privacy policy compliance – this means retailers must follow through with the details of any privacy policies they give to customers or post on their Web sites. Also, the FTC wants companies to comply with their privacy policies even when the companies are sold or reorganized.
  • Increasing enforcement of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
  • Improving privacy complaint handling and encourage consumers to report any privacy violations.
  • Educating consumers through workshops and reports about privacy issues.
In addition, Muris said the Platform for Privacy Protection, also called P3P, is coming online soon. When this technology is adopted, consumers will specify their privacy preferences in their Web browsers and then screen out Web sites that don't meet the set preferences.

With this new agenda, the FTC will be more active than ever at protecting consumers' privacy, but many privacy advocates are not satisfied. They want new legislation to increase the controls on information sharing between businesses and more protection for consumers. Mathis, however, thinks it's too soon to pass more legislation – no one can agree on it anyway – and that a great deal can be done with the current laws. This is good news for retailers because most already comply with FTC privacy regulations.


- by Julia M. Duncan