House bill would slice Internet 'spam'

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Internet users who are tired of checking their e-mail to find their mailbox jammed with spam — solicitors’ offers — may soon find relief.
A House bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Bradstreet, R-Gaylord, would prohibit Internet service providers from releasing personal identifying information about a subscriber to third parties for marketing purposes.
If a customer consents to have information released, it must be in writing or filed electronically, according to the bill.
“I think it is a good bill that makes a lot of sense,” said Rep. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck. “Privacy issues are a big concern to the public and obviously to legislators.”
The legislation stems from controversy that arose a few months ago about Comcast, an Internet service provider. Comcast received negative public feedback from customers who found that the company had been tracking their customer’s usage of the Internet.
“About a week after all the press came out with this story, Comcast changed their policies,” said Brian Mills, the legislative assistant to Bradstreet. “My boss wanted to take it a step further and actually make it a law.”
But many Internet service providers have privacy clauses and do not give out their customers’ information, said Kevin Mitchell, the systems administrator at Iserv, an ISP in Grand Rapids.
“We don’t give out any of our customers’ information,” Mitchell said. “We have a privacy policy posted on our Web site.”
Mercury Network, an ISP in Midland and Grand Rapids, also does not give out customer information.
“I would think that people would respect their customers enough to keep their information private,” said Stephen Burd, Mercury Network’s sales and marketing manager.
The measure’s privacy clause would not have much effect on many companies that already do not release customer information, but it might change the way they do things.
“The bill might require us to do more types of things involving changing our internal procedures,” Mitchell said. “Things like turning off tracking devices used to track time online Ð it wouldn’t really be a problem, it just might cost a little more time.”
Now the House Energy and Technology Committee must review the bill.
“We will be talking to many Internet service providers before we take this up in committee,” Mills said. “We’ve worked with quite a lot of them before on broadband issues and have a good working relationship with them.”
Birkholz, a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, said the bill has a very good chance of passing through the committee.
Some Internet service providers also welcome a bill that would protect customer privacy.
“I like the idea of the fact that users are protected,” Mitchell said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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