If the private sector does not find a way to punish companies that misuse personal data collected on-line, the government will step in, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said Tuesday.
"There has to be a way to enforce this that the consumer can trust," Mr. Daley said in opening remarks before a Commerce Department-sponsored conference on Internet privacy.
"It would be a shame ... if government now has to intervene," Mr. Daley said. "I don't want to hear griping and moaning from any of you if that happens."
Privacy guidelines developed by various industry groups do not go far enough, he said. "Articulating principles isn't adequate. There has to be some meaningful consequences to companies that don't comply."
Mr. Daley said the government will not allow electronic commerce to stagnate because consumers fear privacy violations. "If they feel that when they apply for loans at different banks, a third party can learn about their personal finances, it will be the last time they bank on the Internet," he said. "Consumers will want government to intervene."
Also at the conference, privacy expert Alan F. Westin said a recent poll he conducted showed that 61% of Internet users believed industry self- regulation will be inadequate and that additional government privacy rules will be necessary.
The American Bankers Association and other industry trade groups insist that the private sector is capable of policing itself and that new government regulations would hinder the growth of Internet businesses. But they have resisted calls from privacy advocates that violators of industry standards be fined or stripped of their trade association memberships.