Opponents Say McCain-Kerry Bill Would Limit the Internet

    April 15, 2011

A new privacy bill introduced earlier this week has a lot of people talking. The bipartisan proposal introduced by Senators McCain and Kerry would create the nation’s first comprehensive privacy law.

Does America need a federal privacy law? Share your thoughts.

Advocates of the bill say it would enforce protection for consumers’ digital data and would also limit how large companies collect and utilize information. Those who oppose it believe that it would have a negative impact on the future development of the Web.

“The reality is, I don’t think we’ve yet determined that there is a clear market failure or harm that needs to be addressed through preemptive, prophylactic forms of regulation such as the McCain/Kerry bill,” said Adam Thierer.

Thierer is a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He believes that a “hands off the Internet” policy is a better approach for the Web.

Up to this point, the U.S. has relied on a model that lets users work out problems in the marketplace through experimentation. Other countries, however, have extensive privacy regulations that govern their information flow.

Thierer, and others that oppose the bill, believe it would create an “information control regime.” He also pointed out that there are tools already available that ensure for the same privacy measures that the bill would enforce on a federal level.

“An important thing that’s often overlooked in this debate is how few people actually really care enough to actually do these sorts of things… that’s not a market failure, it’s just a choice consumers have made,” he said.

Supporters of this “privacy bill of rights,” as this bill is being called, believe it should include a measure that stops companies from tracking online actions. Incidentally, Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011, which specifically covers online data collection.

Just as opponents to the “Do Not Track” bill believed that it would harm the online advertising industry, opponents to the McCain/Kerry bill believe it would have a similar impact. Many of the free services that consumers use daily are possible because of online advertising. If advertising were limited, companies would likely have to charge for services such as email and social networks.

“What is it that powers the Internet? It’s information and advertising,” said Thierer.

One further issue that opponents bring up is the fact that this bill could lead to more regulation for the Internet.

“Where we begin with certain types of rules and regulations is not where we always end,” he added.

Interestingly, Microsoft, eBay, HP, and Intel have all voiced approval for the bill. What’s even more intriguing is that Google and Facebook, who are both mega influencers, did not join this tech group of supporters.

Do you believe in a “hands off the Internet” approach, or do you think the McCain/Kerry privacy law would be beneficial?