New York (Feb. 25, 2002) - The American Institute of CPAs wants brick and mortar businesses to turn to CPAs for advice on privacy issues, and is forming a task force to extend and expand upon its WebTrust program offline, it said Monday.

The institute said the task force will highlight solutions to help CPAs advise organizations on myriad issues related to privacy, including risks of not having a good privacy policy. It is made up of Big Five and smaller public accounting firms, industry members and academics. The chairman is Deloitte & Touche's Everett Johnson.

A recent Harris Interactive poll sponsored by the institute and Ernst & Young found that 83 percent of consumers said they would end any business relationship with companies that misuse customer information. The poll also found that companies with a reputation for good privacy practices earned more business.

With mixed results, the AICPA already has taken a stab at providing other assurance services via CPAs - including WebTrust (to assure that business Web sites are safe places to shop) and SysTrust (to certify that a company's systems are running smoothly).

"This is not just another assurance product," said Task Force member Brian Tretick, a principal with Ernst & Young. "It's going to allow us to develop some standard goals for privacy across businesses. Right now we have a patchwork of legal and regulatory and common practices that need harmony. This is a chance to provide some of that harmony."

The task force's recommendations are expected by the summer.

- Tracey Miller-Segarra

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