A recent Senate hearing showed some well-informed congressman making intelligent comments about the problem of privacy and the Internet today. But while the attention to privacy was promising, any actual privacy legislation out of Congress would probably make privacy issues worse, not better.From this hearing I was surprised by what I was hearing from the Senators and others participating. Rather than the technology cluelessness I'm used to from capitol hill hearings, these speakers seemed to clearly understand some of the issues and problems with privacy today (or at least their staffers trained them well).
I was especially glad to see serious discussion about the fact that almost no one reads privacy statements on websites and that they are essentially useless for protecting visitor privacy.
And put me down as someone who is very concerned about privacy on the Internet. Yes, social networks and other systems have shown that many people are happy to share every little detail about their life. But at least they are knowingly sharing this data. The real problem is with all of the sites and systems on the Internet that quietly take data and share it across networks, making it possible to get highly detailed views into areas of people's lives that if they actually had the choice, they wouldn't want to share.
But all of these positive aspects of the hearing get a little overshadowed by the talk of prospective legislation that might get put forward to deal with privacy problems. Because I think privacy is one of those areas where legislation would probably do little to solve the problem but would create lots of new problems.
However, the Senate's attention isn't all bad. If enough players are afraid of legislation, they might start taking people's privacy concerns seriously. And I also have high hopes for tool based options, such as a recently proposed browser option to essentially let people opt-out of internet tracking completely.