WASHINGTON - Following the Federal Trade Commission's request to Congress for authority to tighten online consumer privacy standards, House Republicans voiced concerns that election year politics could be behind the request.
"This is an election year and it seems they are trying to stir things up a little bit," said Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va. "In an election year, they like to throw issues into the mix."
He spoke in a weekend telephone interview from the Republican Privacy Retreat, a gathering of party officials and leaders of the nation's high-tech industry held in Leesburg, Va.
An FTC speaking Sunday on condition of anonymity confirmed that the commission on Friday voted to approve a plan to seek new laws that would give it authority to toughen privacy safeguards. For example, the FTC would be able to penalize companies that violate privacy regulations.
The official said FTC members planned to provide further details to members of Congress on Monday.
But some Republicans suggested in a series of weekend interviews that private companies are already doing a pretty good job.
"A vast number of sites disclose what their privacy policies are and give consumers more control on what information is gathered and how will be used," said Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee of the House Commerce committee.
"Its good for companies to be secure and many are exploring new self regulation systems," Tauzin said. "More and more companies are adopting policies of not doing business with companies that don't have good privacy policies."
Congress has already enacted some laws to help ensure the privacy for online consumers, most recently in the financial services area, Tauzin said. "Substantial and important privacy protection was passed," Tauzin said.
Tauzin added he has met with FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky and hasn't closed the door on looking at new legislation if needed.
"We asked him to examine the scope of his authority to police bad players on the Internet," Tauzin said.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said both the FTC and the Justice Department have existing roles in privacy enforcement and they should be examined closely "before jumping into further legislation."
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