The Commerce Department should open a privacy office and work to develop voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers tracking consumers on the Internet, said a report by the department's Internet Policy Task Force.

The report issued on Thursday arrives at a time of growing concern about the strength and ability of companies collecting Internet users' personal Web habits and selling the data to advertisers.

But the task force document hinted at a reluctance to regulate data collection.

The government can coordinate this process (data privacy rules), not necessarily by acting as a regulator, but rather as a convener of the many stakeholders -- industry, civil society, academia-- that share our interest in strengthening commercial data privacy protections, the report said.

The report said codes of conduct that are voluntary and enforceable should be developed for the industry and would help maintain public trust in the Internet.

One of the tasks of the Commerce Department's new privacy office could be to set up framework that would allow consumers to opt out of being tracked, the report said.

The Federal Trade Commission, in a report issued on December 1, backed the creation of a Do Not Track mechanism for Internet users.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)