Should private companies be allowed to keep information about the buying habits of their customers and share that information with other businesses? Tension is growing between the demand for free flow of information and the call of privacy alarmists for regulation of the use of customer information by private-sector businesses. From the "Electronic Bill of Rights" of Al Gore to threats of regulatory actions by the FTC, privacy may become the regulatory boot in the door of the Internet.
Understanding the controversy over privacy will be crucial throughout 1999, as the European Union has demanded that U.S. companies comply by October 1998 with privacy rules comparable to those the EU has adopted. Firms that fail to do so might find themselves barred from serving European customers. U.S. lawmakers should not allow Europeans to foist their confused privacy regulations on citizens of the United States, because the European model does little but empower new bureaucracies to restrict freedom.