WASHINGTON — Hoping to kick-start efforts to pass privacy reforms this year, a coalition of consumer organizations, labor unions and civil-rights groups will announce today that they have joined forces to lobby Congress for tougher protections on the collection and use of personal information.
"We're loading up and getting ready for a fight," said Ed Mierzwinski, program director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, one of the 15 organizations that now form the Privacy Coalition.
The group's top aims will be pushing members of Congress to embrace a set of privacy principles and combating the lobbying efforts of business groups that are opposed to new laws on privacy.
Other participants include Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumers Union, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, American Civil Liberties Union and Phyllis Schlafly's advocacy group, Eagle Forum.
Among the group's principles are requiring companies to disclose their information-collection practices and giving consumers a choice over how data are used.
The coalition also wants to ensure that states have the opportunity to pass their own laws and that reforms cover information gathered in offline databases as well as online.
Although it is still widely expected that Congress will take up the online-privacy issue this year, legislative activity so far has gotten off to a slower start than many expected. Other issues, such as confirmation hearings for President Bush's appointees and the proposed tax-cut plan, have distracted Congress and pushed privacy to a back-burner.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose online privacy bill garnered widespread attention last year, has yet to reintroduce his privacy proposal this year. The Republican senator has been preoccupied with campaign-finance reform.
"Last year, I would have said the chances for a privacy bill were 90%," said Christine Varney, head of the Online Privacy Alliance, a business lobbying group. "Now I'd say it's about 75%."
To date, nearly 20 privacy-related bills have been introduced in Congress. This week, Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) is expected to reintroduce his bill to create a privacy commission to study the need for comprehensive reforms.
Leaders of the Privacy Coalition will unveil today a four-point "privacy pledge," which they hope state and federal lawmakers will use in crafting legislation. In addition to notice and consumer consent, the group is calling for independent enforcement of privacy rules and legal restrictions on electronic profiling and surveillance technologies used to track or videotape people.