U.S. Senators propose ‘Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights’ to protect personal data

“Sens. John Kerry and John McCain proposed legislation Tuesday to create a ‘privacy bill of rights’ to protect people from the increasingly invasive commercial data-collection industry,” Julia Angwin reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“The bill, labeled the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, would impose new rules on companies that gather personal data, including offering people access to data about them, or the ability to block the information from being used or distributed,” Angwin reports. “Companies would have to seek permission before collecting and sharing sensitive religious, medical and financial data with outside entities.”

Angwin reports, “The move comes amid widening scrutiny of the commercial data-gathering industry, which has been chronicled in The Wall Street Journal’s ‘What They Know’ series. In his comments, Sen. McCain, an Arizona Republican, read an excerpt from the Journal series revealing that 56 popular cellphone applications transmitted information about users to outsiders without users’ awareness or consent. ‘Customers must have control of their data when it is transferred to a third party,’ Sen. McCain said.”

“Some provisions of the bill changed from a draft the senators circulated a month ago. The bill no longer requires data gatherers to seek permission for sharing any data with outsiders—now the requirement is only for sensitive data,” Angwin reports. “The senators also added an exemption for companies that gather data through others, but have an “established business relationship” with a customer and are ‘clear, conspicuous and visible’ to the customer.”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. I’m generally very wary of new legislation (aka government intrusion) but when an app on your phone is transmitting sensitive personal data without informing you or asking permission, that is too far. They need to be forthcoming with what they share and who they share it with and not bury it in paragraph 437 of some kind of user agreement if they let you know at all.

    Hopefully this will be done right with careful thought and consideration of unintended consequences. Who am I kidding, this is the US congress. Someone from the right will probably attach an abortion ban, and someone from the left will probably attach a gay marriage legalization act and this will get buried in bureaucratic black hole that is Washington

    1. Already the political “watering down” phase has begun, eventually making this bill worthless. Can “Minority Report” be that far away?

      Unless effective laws are enacted to protect consumer privacy, this corporate rush to connect everyone and everything will ultimately implode into chaos as database after database is hacked and exploited.

  2. You never know. It took a while, but DDT eventually got banned. If there is narrow enough a scope, a law may even have a chance of getting passed, despite the powerful special interest money spent to torpedo it. Politicians may feel they’ll score more voters with their electoral base by supporting this high-profile bill then by buying them with the lobby money they may get for watering it down or killing it.

  3. This is why gov. doesn’t work for the people. Kerry and McCain circulate a draft of a bill that protects the personal and private data of individuals. A bill that would in essence bar the collection of personal data and info without your knowledge and or consent. Something that’s badly needed in this day and age. A good bill. Now, after the special interests get to peruse that bill for a month they lobby with millions of dollars going to Kerry and McCain’s re-election coffers to exempt or take out any language in the bill that has any teeth. The gov. doesn’t work for you only the special interests. Until that changes the gov. will always be corrupt. My solution would be to ban all lobying as it exists today. Instead, special interests would have to pay into one pot for any discussions they have with elected officials. They would have a chance to debate there concerns in a forum with all representatives present 4 times a month. All the money collected would be divided equally among the Democrats and Republicans and or a third party. No more back room deals or freebies to individual representatives for their support on an issue. Lobbyists getting caught breaking the law would lose their license to lobby, get a huge fine and jail time and the lobbying firm would also be liable.

    1. Your solution makes sense but would require a Constitutional amendment to clarify that the First Amendment only apply to natural persons. Until then, it applies to corporations; your proposal is legally impossible; and corporate-political corruption is fully protected as “speech.”

  4. Two points:
    I would prefer the gov’t to pass a bill preventing adding on unrelated items onto a bill. The law should be voted on its merits not bribes to congress members to get them to vote for a bill.
    I used Ghostery to block all the web bugs that collect data on web pages. It is amazing how many are running on one page. It would be good if there is something like that on the iPhone and iPad.

  5. “Sens. John Kerry and John McCain proposed legislation Tuesday to create a ‘privacy bill of rights’ to protect people from the increasingly invasive commercial data-collection industry,”

    Hey how about creating a “bill of rights to protect people from the increasingly invasive government into everyday people’s lives and back pocket?! I know there is that little thing called the Bill of Rights that are comprised of the first ten Amendments, but a lot good that has done!

    Another two POS 25 year career politicians living off the “teat” of the American taxpayer when, especially these two, both have super rich wives. Retire and let in some young blood with fresh ideas and fresh thinking… The country is getting tired of your old playbook and diatribes. Seniority apparently doesn’t lead to experience amongst politicians as evidenced by how F’ed Up the country is!

    1. Shhh they might catch on, their socialism has put them 20 years ahead on building infrastructure, fighting crime, providing healthcare, and most other elements of “civilization.” But, not worth it because it makes their people far too equal, and denies them their right to drive Hummers and/or the war-subsidized gas to feed them! Yes, even though income taxes in the rich are lower than they have ever been in history, fiscal prudence requires we cut our budget to the size of Somalia’s!

  6. Good start. But the amendments and future watering down will render this too weak. Companies have ways to get “permission” that often entails cohersion. We need stronger protection. I do support a constitutional amendment so the courts and future legislation doesn’t further weaken this.

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