Tech giants demand US-wide privacy law

The world's biggest technology companies have kick-started a campaign for a US-wide privacy law. However, privacy advocates fear that the proposal is too weak when compared to some of the state laws it would overrule.

Google, Microsoft, Intel, eBay, HP, Oracle and Sun are amongst the signatories to a statement calling for personal information to be protected across the US. Non-profit lobby group the Center for Democracy and Technology organised the companies into the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum.

"The time has come for a serious process to consider comprehensive harmonized federal privacy legislation to create a simplified, uniform but flexible legal framework," said the CPL Forum's statement. "The legislation should provide protection for consumers from inappropriate collection and misuse of their personal information and also enable legitimate businesses to use information to promote economic and social value."

Privacy laws are currently operated on a state-by-state basis in the US and some, such as California's, offer considerable protection. Central to the CPL Forum's proposal is that any law automatically overrules state laws on privacy.

Some privacy activists were reported as having concerns that the stricter state laws could be diluted by a bill that is likely to be weaker in order to gain national approval.

"In principle, such legislation would address businesses collecting personal information from consumers in a transparent manner," said the Forum statement. "Because a national standard would pre-empt state laws, a robust framework is warranted."

Breaches of digital privacy are becoming increasingly common as more and more business and government processes are carried out on computers. Laptop loss has exposed data on customers and employees from a wide range of companies, including Sun, IBM, Cisco, BP, Nokia and several US Government departments. The disclosure of some of these losses has in some cases only come about because of California's existing privacy law.

The Forum first met last winter when it comprised the CDT eBay, HP and Microsoft as well as an Ohio University academic.