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House Committee Zeroes in on Data Privacy

A batch of proposals would protect personal information and strengthen consumer privacy, the bipartisan congressional authors suggest.

Data privacy is taking center stage in Congress this week as the House of Representatives follows the Senate with bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting consumers' personal information.

The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced a package of bills Thursday to protect consumer privacy. The release coincides with National Consumer Protection Week.

The legislation aims to protect people's Social Security numbers, prohibit the use of spyware for transmitting personal information, increase restrictions on personal phone records, and require companies doing interstate business to protect personal data.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who chairs the committee, said in a prepared statement that the committee will work with government regulators, consumer advocates, and businesses to end a "scourge of identity theft and related abuse."

"The American public is owed no less than the full measure of our combined best efforts," he said. "These bills address serious problems that are not going away and only worsen while the Congress dithers."

Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, and 23 co-sponsors, proposed more restrictions on personal phone records. Pretexting, or obtaining personal phone records fraudulently, is illegal under a bill President George W. Bush signed last month. Barton's bill would go further by requiring telecommunications companies to gain advanced consent before sharing customers' phone records with partners, contractors, and other third parties.

Last year, telecommunications companies fought stringent standards contained in failed anti-pretexting proposals.

Barton and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced another bill to outlaw the sale and purchase of Social Security numbers, except in cases where health, security, emergencies, or consumer credit validation call for it.

Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Mary Bono, R-Calif., introduced a cybertrespass protection bill, which would prohibit spyware users from secretly transmitting Internet users' personal information.

Finally, the Data Accountability and Trust Act (DATA), introduced by Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., would require businesses doing interstate commerce to set policies and procedures for protecting personal data. Similar to a bill recently introduced in the Senate, the legislation would also require companies to provide national notice of data breaches.

"Data breaches continue at a rapid pace and constitute a major threat to consumers," said Rush. "We must pass comprehensive data security legislation this year."

Security industry representatives support comprehensive national regulations.

According to the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, so do 69% of Americans.

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