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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
US u-turn on online privacy laws
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By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

A US Government consumer watchdog has abandoned plans for new online privacy legislation, saying it will concentrate on enforcing existing laws.

In a long-anticipated speech, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris said he did not see the need for new legislation to give consumers greater control over how information about them was shared online.

Instead, he said the commission would focus on enforcing existing laws and policies, increasing the resources dedicated to privacy protection by 50%.

The decision represents a u-turn on the position taken by the agency last year under former chairman Robert Pitofsky, who was appointed by the Clinton administration.

Online privacy concerns

Privacy is a key issue in the US, with many politicians and civil liberties groups pressing for new measures to establish a clear set of rules about how personal information is collected and used online.

I think there is a great deal we can do under existing laws to protect consumer privacy

Timothy Muris, FTC chairman
In a report to Congress last year, the FTC recommended by a 3-2 vote that Congress draft new laws to give consumers greater privacy protections.

Mr Muris is a Republican who was appointed to head up the FTC by President George W Bush.

"I think there is a great deal we can do under existing laws to protect consumer privacy," said Mr Muris, in a speech at a privacy conference in the US. "That is what this privacy agenda is all about. At this time, we need more law enforcement, not more laws.

"We will enforce current laws vigorously, using more of the FTC's resources. We will use our full arsenal of tools to pursue our strong pro-privacy agenda addressing real privacy concerns," he stressed.

Stopping spam

His comments follow four months of consultations with consumer groups, businesses, academics and trade associations.

From now on, said Mr Muris, privacy would become a central part of the FTC's consumer protection mission.

Among the measures announced is an initiative to cut down on junk e-mail by creating a national "do-not-call" list of people who wish to avoid such spam.

"It is the bane of cyberspace. Fraudulent spammers ... promote shifty schemes like chain letters, pyramid schemes, and other forms of deceptive, 'get-rich-quick' frauds," said Mr Muris.

Although the FTC does not have the power to make laws, only to enforce them, its stance will influence policy-makers.

Support for privacy laws has also been undermined by the 11 September attacks. Against the background of the war on terror and the position of the FTC, experts say any privacy bill is unlikely to clear Congress.

See also:

02 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
US chases domain name schemer
22 Dec 00 | Business
Junk e-mail eradicated?
15 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Web gets wise to who you are
11 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
The problems of protecting privacy
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