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News Release

Contact: Jeannette Boccini 
The Krantz Group, Inc. 
(212) 891-7234 



-- Advocacy Groups tell White House Conference that Administration Policy is Placing Citizens At Risk -- 

Washington, DC -- June 22, 1998 -- Leading privacy advocates and consumer groups have warned Americans that their privacy remains dangerously unprotected by industry and government. In a joint statement released today the advocates told the U.S. Department of Commerce, which will host a public meeting on Internet Privacy on June 23-24, that industry proposals for self-regulation have failed. They have called for privacy laws and urge consumers to take steps to protect their personal data online and off. 

"Privacy is the number one concern of Internet users today. It is time for the administration and the industry to move beyond public relations and focus on real privacy protection," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). 

In July the Commerce Department is due to report to the White House its assessment of the one-year old policy of promoting "self-governance" for Internet privacy. Last month Vice President Al Gore called for an "Electronic Bill of Rights," saying that Americans should have the right to choose whether their personal information is disclosed. But the White House's current policy is to avoid legislative protections, and to rely on "self-regulatory" means such as trade associations policing their own members. 

"The Administration's current effort totally ignores more pressing privacy threats on the Internet - buying and selling of credit and medical information and Social Security numbers, unauthorized dissemination of photo and video images, lack of security for credit-card account numbers, and the availability of unlisted phone numbers and maps to private residences," said Robert Ellis Smith, editor of Privacy Journal. 

The public meeting on Internet Privacy at the Department of Commerce is expected to showcase the latest round of proposals from leading Internet companies for self-governance, such as the Online Privacy Alliance and the Better Business Bureau Online. The advocates say this approach is fundamentally flawed and should have been discarded years ago. "The Internet is simply exposing chronic problems caused by the lack of control Americans have over data about them that is used and sold by marketers," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. 

Public fear continues to rise as technology and business trends are giving companies access to ever more detailed personal information. "Unrestrained financial industry mergers are leading to greater privacy invasions as industry-friendly laws allow insurance subsidiaries to unfairly share confidential medical information with bank affiliates," said Ed Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director of U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). 

A 1998 poll by Business Week/Harris found that 25% of Americans feel they have been the victim of an invasion of privacy. Most people feel that Congress "should pass laws now for how personal information can be collected and used on the Internet," according to the survey. But data protection laws have met powerful opposition from lobbyists. "While privacy rights are being elevated in Europe, they are being commodified in America. Our government must now recognize that we are not sheep to be shorn of our privacy by direct marketers," said Robert Bulmash, president of Private Citizen, Inc. 

To measure the effectiveness of self-regulation, the Federal Trade Commission surveyed more than a thousand web sites in March. It found that while the vast majority of sites collect personal information, only 14 percent of sites provide any notice about what they do with it, and only 2 percent provide a comprehensive privacy policy. "When you read these so-called privacy policies closely you see most of them should really be called no-privacy policies," said Russ Smith, director of Consumer.Net. 

The FTC has been investigating Web sites that collect personal identifying information from children without notice and parental consent. "As the FTC recommends in its recent report, it is time for Congress to guarantee privacy rights for children online," said Kathryn Montgomery, President of the Center for Media Education (CME). 

The advocates also called on consumers to resist the daily commercial pressures to give up their privacy, online and off. "Consumers should resist giving out their personal data whenever possible, because the system can't be trusted," urged Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times. 

The lack of effective privacy protection is widely believed to be stunting the growth of electronic commerce. "People shouldn't have to hide from every computer that may watch them," said Ram Avrahami, director of the NAMED. "Placing such a huge burden on consumers to protect their personal information against companies that want to sell it is unfair." 

The advocates also recommend that people who use the Web adopt technologies that preserve their anonymity online. "Banner ads and cookies have become instruments of surveillance that build long-term profiles of online behavior, and this information is being sold to marketers, said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp. "Software is available free to block them, but most people haven't even heard of the problem, let alone the solution." 

The organizations supporting the opinion that self-regulation has failed, that data protection legislation is urgently needed, and that consumers should take steps to protect their personal data include the CME, Consumer.Net LLC, EPIC, Junkbusters Corp., the NAMED, Inc., PIRG, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy International, Privacy Times, Privacy Journal, and Private Citizen, Inc. 

The URLs for these organization are: http://www.cme.org, http://consumer.net, http://epic.org, http://named.org, http://junkbusters.com, http://www.pirg.org, http://www.privacy.org/pi/, http://www.privacyrights.org, http://www.privacytimes.com, and http://www.private-citizen.com. Contact details are available from the web sites or from the press contact above. 

This document is http://www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/nr10.html.



©1999 Public Interest Research Groups