Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) - along with 4 New Democrat colleagues in the House - introduced today a resolution that recognizes the importance of the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification as a key tool for consumers who want to protect their privacy on the Internet. In an effort to promote widespread adoption of the technology, the resolution also urges all government and commerical web sites operators to make their sites P3P compliant.

Cosponsoring the resolution are Reps. Dooley (D-CA), Tauscher (D-CA), Larsen (D-WA) and Moran (D-VA). Importantly, all Members announced that their congressional web sites are the first in the House of Representatives to be P3P compliant.

The Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P) was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium and is emerging as an industry standard. Simply put, P3P is designed to empower consumers with a tool for evaluating web sites' privacy standards and then making choices about how to interact with that site. 

"One of the key elements of the privacy debate – and something that often gets lost in the shuffle – is the need for consumers to be able to effectively manage their personal information online," said Smith. "The P3P specification fills this need because it allows consumers to make decisions about how much information they want to share with web site operators. As Congress considers privacy legislation, P3P is an immediate way to address consumer concerns without onerous regulation."

The resolution recognizes that "the success of the P3P specification depends on the widespread adoption and deployment of machine readable privacy policies" and that commercial, nonprofit and government web sites "should deploy P3P compliant privacy policies." 

P3P-enabled Web sites make their information practices available in a standard, machine-readable format. P3P-enabled browsers can "read" this snapshot automatically and compare it to the consumer's own set of privacy preferences. 

A consumer using P3P software on their browser is walked through a process that helps them determine and set their privacy preferences. The user is prompted to answer a standardized set of multiple-choice questions, covering all the major aspects of a Web site's privacy policies. These questions measure how much personal information they want to share with any given site. When P3P is set up and the user visits a P3P-compliant site, the site's privacy statement is automatically compared against the user's preferences, and the user is informed about how the site measures up. 

"This is a classic chicken and egg issue," Smith continued. "Web sites won't become P3P compliant if people do not have the software to make it work. And the browser-software companies won't create software that fully takes advantage of the power of the P3P specification if web sites are not compliant. I am proud to be among the first few Members of the House of Representatives to have a P3P compliant Web site, and I hope this resolution helps spread the word about this important tool."