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Internet Sites Sell Personal Info
Associated Press
Tuesday, July 27, 1999 5:54PM

WASHINGTON (AP) via NewsEdge Corporation -

Private information unwittingly released by Internet users is not protected under federal guidelines because few Web sites adhere to them, according to a study released Tuesday.

Based on previous reports on Internet users and Web sites, the Center for Democracy and Technology said Congress should pass legislation to force compliance with guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission.

The lack of privacy protection on the Internet contributes to a pervasive ``unease that someone's watching you,'' the center's counsel, Deirdre Mulligan, told the Senate Commerce Committee.

``Internet privacy on the Internet should be the rule rather than the exception,'' she said.

To that end, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., chairman of Commerce's communications subcommittee, has introduced legislation to require Web site operators to post privacy policies on their pages and allow consumers to direct those operators not to share their private information.

But Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has sided with the FTC, refusing to move forward with legislation until it becomes clearer whether private industries on the Web can police themselves. That stance virtually kills Burns' bill.

``The Internet changes daily, if not hourly. Any regulation imposed today may be ineffective in protecting consumers tomorrow,'' McCain said in a statement. But, he warned, ``the industry should not be misled into thinking that these results represent some type of pass on future legislation.''

McCain noted that a study by Georgetown University found that 94 percent of the most frequently used 100 Web site have privacy disclosure, as do two-thirds of randomly visited sites.

But Mulligan and Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told lawmakers that many of those disclosures do nothing else _ such as explain how a consumer might refuse to allow his or her information to be sold or shared.

``Privacy policy is not the same as privacy protection,'' Rotenberg told the panel. If Congress does not provide better enforcement and clearer guidelines, consumers will be faced with a choice to ``either use the Internet and give up their privacy, or stay off the Net,'' he added.

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