WASHINGTON - Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky predicted Tuesday that the newly elected Congress will take up privacy legislation soon after convening in January.

"I will be astonished if privacy is not a major issue within 90 days of Congress returning," Mr. Pitofsky said at a luncheon sponsored by Women in Housing and Finance. "It will be as much a priority as election reform or hanging chads. From what I hear, the debate isn't on whether there should be more legislation but what is the best kind of legislation to have."

Mr. Pitofsky said that most polls show Americans are concerned about threats to their privacy and would like to see a federal law that expands consumer protections. He said some business groups have opposed new law, arguing that market forces should determine rules on privacy. Others have sought solutions in self-regulation.

"I think there should be a combination of these three ideas," Mr. Pitofsky said. "I don't think any idea alone is adequate and that market forces, self-regulation, and new laws could all play a role."

Mr. Pitofsky said that the privacy protections in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act are an important step but that they should be expanded as part of a broadening of privacy laws for all industries. He said the FTC supports legislation that would require companies to keep such data secure, as well as notifying customers about how their information will be used; would give people a chance to block the sharing or selling of their confidential data; and would offer them the chance to correct any error.

Mr. Pitofsky said his proposal would leave room for the industry to police itself. The FTC would step in only where absolutely necessary, he said.

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