Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, presented FTC testimony today before the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property of the House Judiciary Committee on the Commission's activities to date in the area of online privacy, particularly with respect to its role in implementing and enforcing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). According to Bernstein, the Commission's work to protect children's online privacy is one of several ongoing efforts to help promote privacy protections for all online consumers.
Bernstein outlined the FTC's role since 1995 at the "forefront of the public debate on online privacy." She discussed Commission activities, including holding public workshops; examining Web site information practices and disclosures regarding the collection, use, and transfer of personal information; and encouraging self-regulatory efforts and technological developments intended to enhance consumer privacy protections.
The Commission's testimony stated that in its 1998 report, Privacy Online: A Report to Congress, the FTC recommended that Congress adopt legislation setting forth standards for the online collection of personal information from children; four months later, Congress enacted COPPA, which authorized the Commission to issue regulations implementing the Act's privacy protections for children under the age of 13.
Congress enacted COPPA specifically to protect children from efforts of online marketers to collect personally identifying information from young consumers without parental involvement, and required the FTC to issue rules implementing its requirements within one year of its enactment. The Commission issued the final Rule in October 1999, which became effective last month.
COPPA and its implementing rule contain several important features. The Act and the Rule employ flexible standards rather than static rules, providing "website operators with flexibility in choosing how to comply, as well as leaving room for the growth of new technologies." Flexible standards "encourage the development of new products and services that could ease compliance with the Rule," according to the Commission's testimony.
The testimony also detailed Commission efforts to educate the public about COPPA. Shortly after the rule was announced, a Compliance Guide was posted on the FTC website. Also, "e-mails were sent to major children's sites, participants in COPPA workshops, and commentators in the rulemaking to alert them to the guidance. In addition, the Commission is also holding informal seminars to educate online businesses about the need to comply with COPPA," the testimony states.
In February, a Consumer Alert press release was sent to more than 14,000 news outlets, as well as to websites, parent organizations, and schools through organizations like the PTA and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. The FTC also developed a "Kidz Privacy" website where information about COPPA was placed. In its first month, nearly 50,000 visitors to the site were recorded. According to the testimony, major national corporations and privacy groups joined in the Commission's outreach efforts, linking to the FTC site. The FTC is also developing printed materials with children's online privacy tips to distribute to school children.
The "Kidz Privacy" website also includes radio public service announcements and a banner public service announcement that can be downloaded and placed on any website. In May and September, radio public service announcements will air that refer listeners to the FTC website and the Commissions's Consumer Response Center (CRC) for more information.
The Commission's testimony stated that enforcement will play an important role in ensuring compliance with the law. "We have been impressed by the substantial commitment the online industry has made to the implementation of the statute and the fair information practices principles that underlay it. Nonetheless we believe that along with education, enforcement will play a critical role in the Act's success."
The Commission expects to receive referrals from industry self-regulatory groups, privacy advocates, competitors, and consumer groups, and will also analyze complaints from the FTC's CRC to identify rule violations. In addition, Bernstein said the Commission will "hold 'surf'days in which FTC staff work together with other enforcement agencies to identify sites that are not in compliance with the law."
The testimony also detailed other FTC initiatives in the area of online privacy apart from COPPA.
The Commission vote to issue the testimony was 5-0.
The views expressed in the written testimony represent the views of the Federal Trade Commission. The oral presentation and responses to questions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission or any individual Commissioner.
Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; toll-free: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC Matter No. P954807)