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Of all the recent Congressional proposals to address online privacy concerns, Representative Asa Hutchinson’s Privacy Commission Act (H.R. 4049) might become law.
The bill proposes the creation of a 17-member commission comprised of four appointees from both the Speaker and Senate Majority leader, four from the administration, two-each from the Senate and House minority leaders, and a chairman agreed upon by the President, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader. The purpose of the commission would be to analyze privacy issues, release findings, and make a legislative recommendation to Congress. Nine votes (a simple majority) would be required for a formal legislative recommendation. The bill passed out of House subcommittee last week and is heading for a full committee vote. With little dissent from either party, it appears that the bill will reach the floor soon and gain passage.
There is no question that the bill can, and should, be improved. Given their history of abstentions in both the Internet Tax and Medicare commissions, the number of administration appointees should be reduced to one.
More dangerous than the composition of the proposed commission are the potential recommendations. All too often, consensus-building politics secure agreements that promote more government and grant favors for special interests, leaving consumers to wonder what happened.
Despite its negative potentialities, Hutchinson's bill deserves praise for insisting on a comprehensive study of the issue instead of legislation. Consumers should be wary of government officials who press for regulation without an adequate investigation of the subject.
We will continue to watch the Hutchinson proposal with interest.