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Commerce Dept. weighs privacy policy guidelines

By Cecilia Kang

The Commerce Department has drafted broad recommendations for Internet privacy oversight in a widely anticipated report that could set the stage for tighter regulation of Web firms.

Among its 10 policy recommendations, the report calls for strengthening the Federal Trade Commission’s rule-making powers and enacting legislation requiring Internet companies to inform customers of data breaches. Trade publication TR Daily obtained a copy of a draft summary of the report.

A Commerce Department spokeswoman confirmed Monday that a draft of the report was leaked but said a final version, which will go to the White House, will be released “in the coming weeks.”

The report, prepared by the Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration -- which advises the White House on communications policy – also recommends voluntary codes of conduct for Web firms and advertisers, an idea that has drawn sharp criticism from privacy advocates.

“The Commerce Department is more interested in protecting companies collecting data than consumers,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive of the Center for Digital Democracy, a public interest group.

The NTIA, which advises the White House on Internet policy, envisions creating a privacy policy office that would develop "voluntary principles" that would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and "would serve as a safe harbor for companies facing complaints about their privacy practices,” according to TR Daily.

The Commerce Department spokeswoman said it will seek imput on its recommendations “with the goal of advancing both the domestic and global dialogue and contributing to an eventual administration-wide position on information privacy policy.”

“As the Internet evolves, the Obama administration is committed to promoting policies that will preserve consumer privacy online while ensuring the Web remains a platform for innovation, jobs and economic growth,” the Commerce spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail statement. She declined to discuss specifics of the draft report. “These are complementary goals because consumer turst in the Internet is essential for businesses to succeed online.”

The report recommends legislation that establishes a “baseline privacy framework” for the Internet and advertising industry. The draft specifically calls for baseline principles on fair data collection practices on the Web. It questions whether the FTC should have expanded authority to create rules to implement Internet privacy legislation.

The report also calls on the White House to review the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), in which companies such as Microsoft want to include privacy protections for cloud computing and location-based services.

Related stories of interest:

House to weigh Do Not Track registry for Internet privacy

White House forms a committee on Internet, privacy policy

FCC investigates Google's Street View privacy breach

Internet privacy in the next Congress

By Cecilia Kang  | November 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  FTC, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Privacy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: House to hold Do Not Track hearing on Internet privacy
Next: Smartphone sales to pass computers in 2012: Morgan Stanley analyst Meeker

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