Congress takes stab at 'Do Not Track' legislation

A bill pending in Congress seeks to legislate some form of "do not track" system to protect online privacy.

Momentum is building behind the US Federal Trade Commission call for some sort of "do not track" system. Each of the major Web browser vendors have come up with their own unique approach to preventing Web surfing habits from being tracked, and now Congress is getting in on the act with pending "do not track" legislation.

I spoke with Behnam Dayanim, co-chair of Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider's Litigation and Regulatory Group. Behn has extensive experience in U.S. and global personal-data privacy issues and shared some thoughts about the "Do Not Track' bill, and what we can expect going forward.

Behn explained that this legislation is the first effort in the United States to classify an IP address as personal or sensitive information worthy of protection. Behn added "The bill leaves quite a lot to the Federal Trade Commission to sort out. That is a reasonable approach -- and a refreshing change from how much congressional legislation is drafted -- but it would portend a vigorous and likely difficult rulemaking if enacted, as the FTC attempts to implement its mandate."

If the FTC wants to know how much fun that game is, it need look no further than the FCC. The FCC has a similarly broad mandate to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. However, virtually every FCC decision or attempt at fulfilling that mandate is met with massive resistance from the GOP and an overwhelming lobbying effort by the industries the FCC is charged with overseeing.

Behn describes one example of the nuanced minefield this legislation might create for the FTC. "It defines "sensitive information" to include information that "relates directly" to an individual's physical or mental health. That definition raises a lot of questions - if I visit WebMD or a site for a psychiatric center near me, does that browsing behavior "relate" to my physical or mental health? In truth, the answer may depend on why I went there - for myself, for a loved one, out of idle curiosity."

The legislation itself takes a broad approach rather than directing specific solutions. Some sort of universal opt-out framework -- similar to the telemarketing "do not call" registry, would be best, but the bill leaves open the possibility that "do not track" could be implemented at the browser level. That system requires a lot of user awareness and interaction, though -- like requiring people to register for different "do not call" plans depending on which phone hardware or phone company they use.

The FTC could take up the challenge and develop a more universal opt-out approach, but like FCC efforts to impose net neutrality, any FTC attempt to regulate on a broad scale is bound to be met with controversy and resistance.

Ultimately, though, Behn is confident the bill will not pass -- at least not in its entirety or in its current form. "Although we may see some internet privacy legislation from this Congress, I would not rate the chances as high, and any bill that does pass will reflect more of a self-regulatory bent than is reflected in Rep. Speier's bill."

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacy legislationapplicationssecuritybrowserssoftwarelegislationgovernmentinternetprivacyFederal Trade Commission

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?