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Jim Guest

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Fighting for Consumer Rights, Fifty Years After Kennedy's Call

Posted: 03/15/2012 1:13 pm

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a watershed moment in the consumer movement -- the recognition by a president that consumers deserved their own set of rights.

On March 15, 1962, President John F. Kennedy called for a set of four basic rights for every consumer:

• The right to safety,
• The right to be informed,
• The right to choose,
• And the right to be heard.

Basically, President Kennedy said, you should have the right to buy safe products, and the right to get the facts you need to make informed choices. He said, you ought to have a fair number of choices at a fair price, and the government needs to listen and respond to what consumers have to say.

It inspired a new generation of leaders to fight for greater protections in the areas of food, finances, auto, and product safety -- protections that we all enjoy today.

President Kennedy's declaration also inspired the mission of the global organization known as Consumers International. For many years Consumers International has celebrated this day -- March 15 -- as World Consumer Rights Day.

Groups like Consumers International and Consumer Reports put those four, basic consumer rights front and center. These rights, along with four additional rights that have since been added, help set a foundation for our missions.

The four additional rights are the right to consumer education, the right to redress, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to the satisfaction of basic needs, like adequate food, shelter, and health care.

But these rights are far from the end of our work.

In particular, there is a consumer issue that deserves everyone's attention, and that issue is privacy. Your private information is being shared and sold and exploited in ways that few could have dreamed of fifty years ago.

Who could have predicted that we'd have a tool like the Internet that provides so much opportunity, but at the same time, exposes each and every one of us to having our most personal information put at risk?

Fundamentally, when I talk about consumer privacy, I'm talking about trust. When you hand over your private information to an online company, you're trusting that your information will be treated fairly and responsibly.

Last month, the White House announced a privacy plan to bring industry and consumer groups together to figure out some rules of the road. And there's the World Wide Web Consortium -- an international convening that's developing standards to limit online tracking.

All of this is very important, and we continue to advocate for a law that guarantees you will have more control over how your information is tracked and manipulated. All of us need to come together to find real solutions on privacy that work.

Being a consumer advocate isn't easy. Most days, it feels like David versus Goliath. There are a lot of powerful interests trying to tilt the scales against consumers. But there is one important asset that they don't have and we do. That asset is people power. I firmly believe that people power, in the end, will come out on top.

Fifty years to the day after the President of the United States called for consumer rights, our job is to fight to preserve these achievements and protect our hard-earned rights. Fighting the good fight together, we can succeed, and we will succeed.