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FTC looks into regulating database ‘look-up’ services

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  1. Libel and Privacy
FTC looks into regulating database 'look-up' services 06/16/97 WASHINGTON, D.C.--Both the Federal Trade Commission and federal lawmakers in early June…

FTC looks into regulating database ‘look-up’ services


WASHINGTON, D.C.–Both the Federal Trade Commission and federal lawmakers in early June took steps that could lead to the regulation of commercial “look-up” services, widely purchased by journalists and many other groups, ostensibly to protect personal privacy interests of individuals whose information can be retrieved from those services.

The FTC defined look-up services as databases that typically are used to locate individuals or to develop individual background information.

On June 5, Rep. Jerry Kleczka (D-Wis.) and Rep. Bob Franks (R- N.J.) introduced the Personal Information Privacy Act to prohibit commercial look-up services from distributing any information about a consumer except name, address and telephone number. The bill would also ban the distribution of that information if it does not appear in a local residential telephone directory. Their bill is identical to a Senate bill introduced in April by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.).

On June 10 the FTC opened hearings on database privacy as commissioners heard from representatives of the information research services, direct marketers, state government officials, researchers, a private investigator and a journalist.

Jane E. Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the overflow crowd at the hearing that regulation of truthful, non-stigmatizing information between private persons would be a prior restraint barred by the First Amendment.

She observed that in proposed regulatory measures the numerous panel members at the first day’s hearing had defined “privacy” loosely.

They had suggested measures that would curb journalists’ abilities to report stories that serve the public’s interest, she said, noting that journalists routinely use the look-up services.

Representatives of several of the direct marketing services pledged at the hearing to limit sale of information that is not gathered from public sources, providing their services only to customers who will make “appropriate” use of the data.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Newspaper Association of America joined in the Reporters Committee’s written comments presented to the FTC prior to the hearing. (Information Privacy Act, H.R. 1813; S.600)