Privacy groups ask US Congress for stronger law

WASHINGTON - A coalition of consumer and privacy groups is pressing the US Senate for stronger legislation to ensure that consumers' private information is kept safe.

In particular, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action and US PIRG, argued that current privacy protections are inadequate, citing as evidence data breaches that have exposed 22.4 million(S$27.4milliom) personal records this year.

"A consumer who has been the victim of a data breach is four times more likely to suffer identity theft," the letter said. The groups also rejected self-regulation as insufficient.

"We are firmly committed to innovation and economic growth and we share the enthusiasm that new technologies and new businesses generate. But it is clear that there must be stronger safeguards in place," the groups said in a letter to Senators John Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the chair and top Republican respectively in the Senate Commerce Committee. The letter was dated July 1, 2011.

There have been several bills introduced to toughen privacy regulations, many of which are seen as inadequate.

Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced a bill in April that would require companies to notify consumers in clear language when their data was being collected and oblige them to keep that information safe from hackers.

Rockefeller introduced a bill in May that would allow Internet users to opt out of having personal data collected. If it becomes law, providers would be able to collect information needed to provide a service - like ship a package - but would have to anonymise or delete it as soon as the service had been performed.

Privacy advocates argue that companies that collect and store personal data expose the data to possible theft, particularly when they store it long after they need it.