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Government must act against an intrusive Web

The following appeared in the Star Tribune in the letter to editor today (Jan. 28) By: Representatives Hoppe & Winkler

In our increasingly wired world, we're all turning to the Internet to communicate, socialize, pay bills and manage everyday affairs at an exponential rate. It is important for industry leaders, thought leaders, policymakers and educators to examine today's online privacy challenge and share thoughts and ideas.

That's why we were delighted to be part of a thought-provoking, half-day conference at the Humphrey Institute's Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy. Together with experts from business, the University of Minnesota and Washington think tanks, we explored the increasingly important role that science and technology play in our society and examined the implications for public policy at the international, national and state levels.

Minnesota adopted privacy regulations that apply to Internet service providers in 2002. However, the world has grown and changed tremendously in just a few short years. We now have Google, MySpace, Facebook and a host of other Web-based services that have the potential to accumulate vast amounts of data about the online behavior of individuals.

Largely without your knowledge and mostly without your consent through "behavioral advertising," online search engines and companies are grabbing up personal data on you -- and often provide this treasure trove of consumer profiling to other companies or their advertisers.

The Internet is a powerful tool, but the way some online search engines are choosing to harness its power should leave individual consumers more than a bit concerned.

Consumers must have full and complete notice of what information will be collected, how it will be used and how it will be protected. Consumers should also have easily understood tools that will allow them to exercise meaningful consent. What matters most here is that consumers' privacy and will are adequately represented and respected. Consumers should be empowered to choose when, to whom and how much of their personal Web-based information is collected and used.

It is important for leaders on the national, state and local levels to ensure that citizens are informed about the potential consequences of their online activities so consumers are armed with the tools to make their own choices.


Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
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