McCain and Kerry are backing a bill that would require companies to seek a person’s permission to share data about him with outsiders.
Sens. John McCain and John Kerry are circulating proposed legislation to create an “online privacy bill of rights,” according to people familiar with the situation, a sign of bipartisan support for efforts to curb the Internet-tracking industry.
Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, are backing a bill that would require companies to seek a person’s permission to share data about him with outsiders. It would also give people the right to see the data collected on them. The bill is expected to be introduced ahead of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing next Wednesday on online privacy.
The move comes amid widening scrutiny of the tracking industry. In the past year, The Wall Street Journal’s “What They Know” series has revealed that popular websites install thousands of tracking technologies on people’s computers without their knowledge, feeding an industry that gathers and sells information on their finances, political leanings and religious interests, among other things.
Daniel Weitzner, a Commerce Department official who pushed for creation of the agency’s new privacy office, is expected to become deputy chief technology officer in the White House, where he would oversee a privacy task force, the people familiar with the matter said.
Sen. McCain’s endorsement of privacy legislation adds a prominent Republican voice to the issue, indicating that concern over Internet tracking crosses party lines.
In December, the Federal Trade Commission urged Congress to authorize creation of a “do-not-track” system, modeled after the do-not-call list that governs telemarketers. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, introduced such a bill in January.
The draft Kerry-McCain bill would create the nation’s first comprehensive privacy law, covering personal-data gathering across all industries. That was a key recommendation of a recent Commerce Department’s report, developed in part by Sen. Kerry’s brother Cameron, the department’s general counsel. Current laws cover only the use of certain types of personal data, such as financial and medical information.
The Kerry-McCain bill would cover data ranging from names and addresses to fingerprints and unique IDs assigned to individuals’ cellphones or computers. It would also establish a program to certify companies with high privacy standards. Those companies would be allowed to sell personal data to outsiders without seeking permission in each instance.
A spokeswoman for Sen. McCain confirmed that the two senators were “in discussion” but said “we don’t have anything to announce at this time.” A spokeswoman for Sen. Kerry declined to comment.
Last week, Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns said he would introduce draft privacy legislation soon, although his approach would largely allow the industry to continue many current practices.
Speaking at the Technology Policy Institute, Rep. Stearns said his proposal would allow the FTC to approve a five-year self-regulatory program that would encourage companies to offer more information to consumers about how they were being tracked. “The goal of the legislation is to empower consumers to make their own privacy choices,” he said.