Orson Swindle was sworn in as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 18, 1997. Previously, Swindle served in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1989, directing financial-assistance programs to economically distressed rural and municipal areas of the country.
As assistant secretary of commerce for development, he managed the Department of Commerces national economic development efforts and directed seven offices across the country. Swindle was also state director of the Farmers Home Administration for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, financing rural housing, community infrastructure, businesses and farming.
Government Technology: In March, the House Commerce Committees Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee held its "Privacy in the Consumer World" hearing. What role do you see the FTC playing as the debate over Internet privacy continues?
SWINDLE: I would hope we play the role of an honest broker, drawing the attention of Congress and Internet-related businesses to the concerns of the general public about privacy. The public is obviously concerned about privacy. Unfortunately, its been over-emotionalized, and when we get into over-emotionalizing issues, we often do rash things.
I hope the debate will be honest. I felt the commission was way out of line last May when we recommended legislation.
[Ed. Note -- On May 22, 2000, the FTC released its "Privacy Online: Fair Information Practices in the Electronic Marketplace" report to Congress. In that report, the FTC asked Congress to enact legislation in an attempt to create a minimum level of privacy protection for Net surfers and shoppers. The FTC wanted the legislation to establish "basic standards of practice for the collection of information online." The FTC wanted commercial Web sites "that collect personal identifying information from or about consumers online" to "comply with the four widely accepted fair information practices: notice, choice, access and security." Commissioner Swindle was a vociferous critic of the report.]
I dont think that was appropriate, especially in light of the fact that, in my mind, we have no concrete evidence that there was a market failure. We certainly had not done any cost-benefit analysis as to whether wed be better off with or without some strong or burdensome regulatory regime. I hope that the commission [does] not renew its advocacy for another set of regulations to burden business.
GT: Your stance on industry self-regulation vs. government regulation is pretty well chronicled. Are you still in favor of industry self-regulation?
SWINDLE: Yes. But as you noted [in earlier correspondence], Ive been rather direct in speaking to industry. The bottom line is this: If we have regulation, you, leaders in the industry, dont blame the bureaucrats. Blame yourselves for not getting it done.
Industry has the capacity, the motivation and the creativity to solve these problems as well as theyre going to be solved. We will never completely have an ironclad way to protect everybodys privacy to the nth degree, and it would be easier to argue that we dont need that, either. But we can do better. Industry has made a lot of progress, and Im very pleased.
In particular, Ive made the point to industry that concerns for customer privacy ought to be a part of your corporate culture. Ive told them, "It ought to be a part of your thinking that when you design, create and manufacture devices for the online world, that you think, What does this do that jeopardizes the privacy of consumers? and solve that problem."
Im pleased at the leadership thats being shown by companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Disney. Major companies are weighing in to try to find solutions. Every week, it seems, somebodys got a new piece of software that will help consumers.
Were making progress, but we need to keep moving the ball. Otherwise, sure as were talking, there