The Obama administration has formed a subcommittee drawn from various parts of the federal government to advise the White House on regulatory and legislative issues for the Web.
The panel, which will focus on the Internet privacy, comes as consumer advocacy groups have complained that Internet users need more protection from social media, advertising and other sites that collect user information.
A blog post last Sunday on the National Science and Technology Council Web site said the subcommittee will include members of several federal agencies, such as the Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security and State departments. Cameron Kerry, general counsel at the Commerce Department, and Christopher Schroeder, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, will head the group.
Representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission were also invited. And the White House will have representatives from its Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, U.S. Trade Representative office and National Security Staff Cybersecurity Directorate.
“In this digital age, a thriving and dynamic economy requires Internet policies that promote innovation domestically and globally while ensuring strong and sensible protections of individuals’ private information and the ability of governments to meet their obligations to protect public safety,” Kerry and Schroeder wrote in the NSTC blog post.
The announcement comes on the heels of a number of Internet privacy breaches. Google revealed that its Street View cars were scarfing up date from residential Wi-Fi networks. Facebook acknowledged that developers of third-party applications were able to grab user identifications through browsers.
Lawmakers have responded to concerns with two House bills on Internet privacy. Both would require Web sites to collect the most sensitive information about users – their location, ethnic background, financial and medical data – only on a voluntary basis.
The New York Times has reported on the Obama administration’s push for wiretapping of Internet networks by law enforcement.
The idea of the subcommittee is to develop consensus on the direction of U.S. laws and regulations on Internet privacy, but consumer advocacy groups wondered how much emphasis the group would place on protecting consumers. The committee said it would work closely with private companies to make sure their interests are considered in order to “promote innovation and economic expansion.” Online advertisers such as Amazon, Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have argued that some collection of user data helps them serve up more relevant ads to users.
“Throughout this process, the Subcommittee will endeavor to strike the appropriate balance between the privacy expectations of consumers and the needs of industry, law enforcement and other public-safety governmental entities, and other Internet stakeholders," Kerry and Schroeder wrote.
Consumer advocacy groups say the formation of the subcommittee shows a growing recognition by the Obama administration of online privacy concerns, but they fear Internet users won’t have a strong voice in discussions.
“Up until now, the White House and executive branch has been on the sidelines on this issue but a concern is that key U.S. companies, like Google, are core to the Obama administration,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of privacy advocacy group the Center for Digital Democracy. “The fear is that this could be an attempt by the White House to control issues for special interests, including the Obama campaign, and not consumers at large.”
Video: May 12, 2010: Online Publishers Association President Pam Horan on online privacy legislation
| October 25, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories: FTC, Facebook, Google, Privacy
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