Lawmakers Say Children First in Online Privacy

The-Washington-Post-logoRep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said Thursday that amid the many proposals for online privacy laws, the first step should be protecting children.

But even though most lawmakers agree that young Internet users should have clear protections of their privacy, experts say current proposals will be difficult to turn into laws.

“We need a comprehensive approach to privacy, and it may be appropriate to start by updating the rules protecting children online,” said Eshoo, ranking member of House subcommittee on communications and technology.

She said child privacy laws, created nearly a dozen years ago, didn’t address the prospect that children would get online mostly through devices and that companies would track their activity and locations.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who also said protecting children should be a priority, have introduced a “do not track” bill for them. It also aims to create privacy rules that require Web site companies to inform users how they deal with data on teens. And the bill requires an “eraser button” that would allow parents to delete data on minors.

The Federal Trade Commission is also exploring updates to privacy laws aimed at children and is taking into account, for the first time, how data collection affects teenagers.

“There is greater concern when dealing with teenagers,” said FTC commissioner Edith Ramirez.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, and the White House’s top telecom policy advisors said they support greater protections for children. But they stopped short of saying they support or oppose Markey’s and Barton’s children’s “do not track” bill.

“Privacy for children is politically an issue that is the lowest hanging fruit. The problem is that current proposals aren’t targeted enough,” said Amy Mushahwar, a privacy expert at law firm Reed Smith.

The White House has supported first-time privacy laws. But experts say ahead of the presidential election, passing a new law this year and even in 2012 will be difficult.

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