FTC: Consumer Privacy Comments Concerning Alan Grover--P974806
July 21, 1997
Regarding "Consumer Privacy Issues Posed by the Online Marketplace" hearings on June 10-13.
To the Secretary:
I have just seen the letter containing elaborations from Julie DeFalco on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and for the National Consumer Coalition, dated July 14, 1997, and I am very upset. This letter was not solicited by, nor done on the behalf of any organization.
Im sure the Ms. DeFalcos statements reflect the views of one interested party in this debate, but I wish to reply to some of her statements and insure that non-commercial interests are heard. It is indeed my position that the people of this country are more important than the commercial entities. Regardless of the debater, the justification for commercial activity is always given as the benefits that it produces for people. Please consider the effects on the people before commerce.
First, I am outraged by some statements by Ms. DeFalco, and I would be surprised if they did not offend the members of the Commission.
"Indeed, the evidence is that federal regulation in every other sector of American life has had adverse and unforeseen consequences which end up hurting consumers." This statement can not be characterized in any other way than as a lie. At the very least, some product safety laws have benefited consumers; and regulations have protected consumers from the unequal power that corporations can bring to bear in contractual relations.
"In other words, protecting your privacy is your responsibility. That is the value inherent in the freedom to contract." Ms. DeFalco has failed to note that freedom to contract can only occur in a context of opportunity and equal power. If there are no alternatives, there is no freedom, and if there is unequal power there is coercion. Corporations inherently have greater power than an individual, which we have historically realized in this country and thus enacted laws to provide some protection. As well, we have recognized situations where there is no practical choice (e.g. traditional media markets). If we put the consumer in the situation of protecting a "preference" against the interests of more powerful entities, we surely know what the outcome will be, especially after denying the individual the moral basis for arguing from a right.
Calling privacy a "made-up right" is dishonest. It is not now a popular reading of the Constitution to recognize the un-enumerated rights, though the Constitution clearly states that there are inherent rights that are not enumerated. Privacy has certainly been recognized as such a right. As we can see from debates on the impacts of technology, there are at least some confusing issues, but, erring on the side of the individual's rights is the least harmful error. By granting a more expansive interpretation of a right can we possibly hurt our citizens?
Ms. DeFalco claims that "The NCC is a coalition of nine organizations dedicated to the proposition that consumers are best served by a free market in goods and services." Free market means choice and control by the consumer, as this is traditionally defined. I am appalled that she would attempt to mislead the FTC that the commercial entities that she represents have the consumers' interests at heart. There have been long battles to protect the hen-house from the fox.
'After all, companies already entrenched in a particular market that ask for regulation often do so in order to constrain the actions of future competitors and to derive windfall benefits, a practice known as "rent-seeking."' The implication that individual rights are a form of rent-seeking is deplorable. Recognizing the rights of individuals cannot possibly result in rent-seeking. While regulations at the instigation of commercial interests often serve to gain market advantage for some, regulation protecting rights serves a higher ends of the individual.
Secondly, I disagree vehemently with the views of Ms. DeFalco. Her opening statement that privacy is not a right, it is a preference," is bizarre. Privacy has long been respected as a right it this country, and a its lack in other countries a point of criticism. If we recognize privacy as a right, it will certainly restrict commercial actions, which is not a popular idea in the current government.
I am appalled by the numerous deceptions and misstatements that she attempts to practice on the Commission.
In closing, I ask you to consider the effect that commercial information collection will have on yourselves, and your family. As easily as they collect information on the common citizen, the collection of information about the powerful will interest them more. Act at least in your own self-interest and protect everyone's right to privacy against commercial exploitation.