March 03, 2004

Wyden-Stevens Legislation Will Stop Sale of Children's Names, Addresses to Marketers

Millions of kids from preschool age up are on lists without parents' knowledge; lists are available freely to marketers online and through mail

Washington, DC - The names, ages and home addresses of millions of American children - some as young as two years old - are being bought and sold every day, often online, for the purpose of commercial marketing. Today in Congress, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced the Children's Listbroker Privacy Act to make that practice unlawful. "The wholesale trafficking in specific information about individual children is something that I think most parents would find troubling - I know I certainly do," said Wyden. "Aside from the obvious privacy issues, young children are not likely to understand the intent and tactics of marketing pitches the way adults do, and may be more vulnerable to influence, manipulation, and outright deception. That's why this practice needs to be stopped now, and why I've introduced this bill." "I was shocked to learn that presently the law does not restrict companies from marketing databases for commercial purposes which contain information about very young children. It is shameful that companies can buy private information about children so they can target them for various enticing products and activities such as clothing, pageants, and summer camps. Data about our country's youngest individuals should not be marketed unless their parents give express consent. I am proud to co-sponsor legislation that will halt this practice," said Stevens. A number of companies routinely advertise the commercial availability of databases containing a variety of information on children of ages as young as junior high, elementary school, or even preschool. Several federal statutes - such as the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and section 1061 of the No Child Left Behind Act - regulate the collection and disclosure of information about children or students in narrowly specified circumstances. However, once information about children has been collected and compiled - whether that's done in compliance with these statutes, or by any number of means that fall outside their scope - there is little to restrict its dissemination and use by others. The fact that people can make money - sometimes hundreds of dollars for relatively small groups of names from lists of millions of kids - by selling information about children to marketers is a strong incentive to find new and creative ways to collect that information. The Wyden-Stevens legislation would prohibit anyone from selling, buying, licensing, renting or leasing personal information about a person known to be under 16 years of age unless the parent of the child has given express consent or unless the buyer certifies that the information is being obtained for a strictly non-marketing purpose. The transfer of information for purposes that do not involve commercial marketing - such as distributing information about scholarship opportunities or tracking the spread of a disease - would not be affected by the bill. In a case where a sale is permitted because the buyer's purpose is non-commercial, the bill would prohibit the buyer from later using the information for commercial marketing, or from providing the information to somebody else to use for commercial marketing. The bill's enforcement provisions, like those in COPPA, give the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general the power to go after violators. The Children's Listbroker Privacy Act is expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, of which Stevens and Wyden are members.