Privacy has been a key component of many proposed laws of the 109th Congress. We have witnessed it both in legislation that will likely be passed into law, like the spyware and data theft bills, as well as in the many proposals that have remained buried in committee. Much like old westerns, the new privacy is comprised of “good” and “bad” actors.

When the House first began developing the spyware bill, they wrote a broad piece that encompassed many unrelated professions, including survey research. Congress, especially the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did not have a firm grasp on the difference between “bad actors” who need to be regulated, and “good actors” who have earned the right to self-regulate.

CMOR’s lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill were focused on explaining why the marketing and opinion research profession is not, in any way, a “bad actor.” Researchers do not steal people’s Personally Identifiable Information. They do not track passwords as individuals enter websites, nor do they conduct political telemarketing (push polls), etc. CMOR has presented this information to individual members of Congress and their staffers, and to people who work for the House and Senate committees and address the bills relevant to our profession. CMOR specified that these bills need to be written with only “bad actors” in mind, and it is now evident that Congress has listened.

These Hill visits, along with similar actions by other companies and associations in Washington, successfully educated Congress on why professions like ours need to be excluded from the scope of stringent privacy laws.

Making Headway on Privacy

CMOR is just beginning to see the fruits of its labor. Not only have our efforts with spyware legislation been successful, but we are also gaining headway in other areas.

Congress has focused on legislation aimed at curtailing and penalizing those who commit breaches of people’s personal data or steal their identity. Those who store Personally Identifiable Information are also covered by such legislative proposals. However, Congress, and the House and Senate Committees in particular, have clearly written these data breach/identity theft bills with the “good vs. bad actors” comparison in mind. Survey researchers only need a limited amount of PII in order to conduct a survey. We do not need information such as a credit card numbers or financial account access codes, and these are points we stressed to the Committees.

As written, the bills do not threaten the marketing and opinion research profession. They only encompass those industries that must protect the kind of PII that could lead to financial abuse or identity theft.

This is an approach that CMOR has been building upon for years. Do-Not-Call (DNC), for example, amounted to a telephone privacy bill. DNC did not target our profession (thanks to CMOR’s efforts) and a later advisory opinion CMOR received from the Federal Trade Commission (click here) confirmed that survey research is unaffected by that law. This fortified CMOR’s efforts to prove to legislatures that survey research is non-commercial speech, and is a “good actor” posing no threat to consumers’ privacy rights.

We achieved a similar interpretation of CAN SPAM, an aspect of online privacy that regulates commercial emails, and does not include survey research among its "bad actors." Now, the data breach/identity theft bills that intend to regulate commercial interests such as credit or financial information only include those who misuse or abuse such data.

CMOR’s long-established principles and ideals have carried us through multiple rounds of legislation and have strengthened with time.

CMOR understands that privacy will be a major factor of current and future Congressional activities. Rather than approach each bill one by one, CMOR chose to educate Congress on the nature and value of marketing and opinion research. As noted, these efforts are paying off, and CMOR will continue to follow all legislative activity and continue to protect and defend the industry.