House Subcommittee Weighs Data-Collection Trend Against Consumer Privacy

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On Thursday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection heard testimony from business representatives and consumer privacy advocates who met to "explore the collection and commercial use of consumer data." World Privacy Forum's Pam Dixon and Zoe Strickland, Walmart's chief privacy officer were among tthose who testified.


Energy and Commerce Commitee chair Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., opened the hearing with this observation:

The collection, use, and dissemination of consumer information provide many benefits to consumers, businesses and the marketplace. But they raise legitimate concerns about whether consumers have adequate control over personal information that is shared.

The goal, Waxman said, is to develop solutions that will help consumers to better safeguard their privacy.


Dixon says one of those solutions is legislation that would, among other things, limit the information collected about consumers; require the information to be safeguarded from loss, unauthorized acces or modifcation; and enable the consumer to be made aware of information collected about him or her and to modify it or have it removed if it is not accurate.


Business representatives, of course, say that limiting or otherwise regulating data collection would hinder their ability to serve their customers effectively, and as such, hinder the growth necessary for businesses to survive. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's VP for policy, Wayne Crews, did not testify before the subcommittee, but he did make his position clear in a press release issued shortly before the hearing. He said, in part:

If Congress wants to protect Americans' privacy interests, its first priority should be reforming U.S. data retention laws.... Information collection-both online and offline-is crucial to targeted advertising, which enables firms to offer free services that benefit consumers enormously. Attempts to legislate privacy will invariably constrain data collection capabilities, endangering consumer welfare and even privacy itself. Politicians should remember that privacy is a relationship, not a "thing" that bureaucracies are well suited to protect.

It's yet another issue that we'll need to keep an eye on.