Rep. Joe Barton Interview: One Lawmaker’s Fight for Internet Privacy

Rep. Joe Barton Interview: One Lawmaker’s Fight for Internet Privacy

Worried about the massive amount of personal information on the Web that is collected about you? If so, a Texas lawmaker might have an idea that appeals to you.

Some politicians are looking to protect consumers who don’t want their Google search queries, Facebook “likes,” YouTube viewing, smartphone location, and website visits collected by large companies. In an unusual bipartisan effort, Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) and Rep. Edward Markey (D. Mass.), have written a letter to the World Wide Web Consortium supporting the use of a “do not track” function. The letter urges a variety of international groups, including universities, governments and nonprofit organizations, to consider personal information that can be tracked and used for targeted advertising included in a “Do Not Track” service.

“It is preposterous to think that a group of several hundred business owners would consider voting to put the personal information of hundreds of millions at risk,” said Barton, who is also pushing for a “do not track” option to become the default setting in Internet browsers.

Rep. Barton is not new to debates over privacy and technology and has been a strong advocate for consumer privacy rights and protecting children from online content. Barton is co-chairman of the House Privacy Caucus, investigated privacy concerns arising from Google’s recent privacy policy shift and Facebook’s cookie-tracking, and updated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Barton is facing re-election in November 2012, a bid challenged from a redrawn district map.

Still, the Texas lawmaker took a few minutes to talk to Mobiledia about the pressing issues of the day and how he sees the mobile future.

MOBILEDIA: Rep. Barton, earlier this year, you questioned Google’s policy to share user data across its online services, raising concerns of its use of consumer data. Are you satisfied with Google’s response and do you think consumer data is sufficiently protected?

BARTON: When Google made the announcement that they would be consolidating their privacy policies into one, this sparked major concerns for me. Because of this, I worked with other Members and sent an oversight letter to look further into the issue.

I can say that I was not satisfied with the responses I received and this dissatisfaction was echoed by other Members as well. While I was happy to hear about the ways that Google gave consumers a choice in the usage of their personal information, I still believe that more can be done.

MOBILEDIA: You also questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over how the social network shares information, especially with third-party app developers and cookie-tracking practices. Has the congressional grilling benefited consumers and if so, how?

BARTON: Mr. Markey and myself established the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus because we both believe in the value of allowing consumers to have control over their personal information.

With this said, I believe that any congressional action into the area of privacy is beneficial because, if anything, it allows Members of Congress to become more educated on the privacy policies that govern the various companies and businesses that are being investigated.

I firmly believe that the right to privacy is a top priority that should not be ignored, and I hope that more of my colleagues will echo the same sentiment.

MOBILEDIA: You mention Rep. Ed Markey, from across the aisle, and how you collaborate on technology issues. How important are bi-partisan efforts are in forging effective technology legislation?

BARTON: I believe that when a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican can come together to ensure consumer protection of their personal information, it makes a statement. Two voices are louder than one and, more specifically, two opposing Members from across the aisle are a force.

MOBILEDIA: Looking at the 2012 election and beyond, what are the top five priorities of the Privacy Caucus?

BARTON: Speaking on behalf of the Caucus, our purpose is to explore data privacy and security issues before Congress and positively impact policymaking in this area. We do not have a top five priority list per se, but we are committed to continuing to serve as the voice for greater consumer protection.

MOBILEDIA: Can you name some new issues that are taking center stage in terms of the caucus and technology?

BARTON: On a personal note, Mr. Markey and I introduced the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011″ and we both consider it a priority to ensure that this bill gets passed to protect our children online. It is also a goal for me to ensure that there are greater protections for all Americans online.

MOBILEDIA: What do you think about recent efforts by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile about data collection, use and storage?

BARTON: I believe that there has been more of a consumer outcry for transparency and choice. It is important that companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, continue to practice transparency and consumer choice with their users.

MOBILEDIA: What else can carriers do regarding consumer privacy with mobile devices?

BARTON: I encourage them to implement privacy by design in all future tools used across multiple platforms.

MOBILEDIA: Are consumer protections, privacy and technology important to voters?

BARTON: I believe that more and more consumers are concerned about how their personal information is used. A recent Pew Research Study indicated that 65 percent of users do not support search engines collecting their personal information, 73 percent of users would not be supportive of search engines keeping track of their activity online, and 68 percent of users do not want to receive targeted advertising.

These statistics tell me that people are beginning to pay attention, and I believe that as we continue to operate more online, these numbers will increase.

MOBILEDIA: Rep. Barton, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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