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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/16/2010

Obama Administration calls for 'Privacy Bill of Rights'

By Cecilia Kang

The Obama administration released recommendations Thursday to better protect consumer privacy on the Internet, creating baseline guidelines for how companies treat user data and emboldening federal agencies to enforce privacy protections.

A consumers' "Privacy Bill of Rights" would create a privacy policy office in the Commerce Department and for the first time would establish clear guidelines for what kind of information can be collected about users and how companies can use the data, a Commerce report says. That framework also gives clearer limitations on data use and would increase audits to hold companies accountable for their practices.

The report, which follows similar guidelines released weeks ago by the Federal Trade Commission, comes amid the growing concerns of lawmakers, consumers and privacy groups that Internet users are increasingly giving more information about their preferences and personal profiles without adequate protections.

"Self-regulation without stronger enforcement is not enough," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in a statement. "Today's report is a road map for considering a new framework that is good for consumers and businesses."

At the same time, the agency said it wants input from Web companies and advertisers who have resisted legislation or new rules that would hamper their activity online.

Commerce stopped short of endorsing the FTC's recommended Do Not Track program, which would allow consumers to sign up for browser-based technology so that their activity isn't followed by third parties online.

"There is a constant evolution of profiling and tracking and analysis technology, and we want to make sure tools of development keep up with those technologies," said Daniel Weitzner, associate administrator of policy at Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Commerce recommended privacy codes of conduct for companies that would step up enforcement measures by the FTC and include oversight over emerging technologies. Commerce also called for a privacy policy office within the agency to coordinate policy and protection measures with the FTC and White House.

Locke emphasized that U.S. regulators need to better coordinate their own privacy standards with those of Europe and other nations. The European Union, for example, has implemented laws that prevent companies from collecting certain information about users unless they expressly volunteer that data.

The Commerce Department also recommended updates to electronic privacy laws and a look at whether they should include privacy protection for cloud computing and location-based services. And it proposed a standard framework for how companies notify users of data breaches. Now companies follow their own guidelines for notification, which privacy groups say causes user confusion.

Some privacy advocates touted the report as an important step toward protecting consumers as data collection expands for behavioral advertisers and other businesses while federal agencies have struggled to keep up with those practices in the $10 trillion annual e-commerce industry.

The report calls for public feedback on the recommendations, and legal experts say components would have to be implemented through legislation.

"This is the first time that the administration has emphasized the need for comprehensive privacy protections, and that as of today it is a Wild Wild West out there for consumers and their privacy," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU. "We hope it will lead to strong administrative protections but Congress needs to act."

But the Center for Digital Democracy's executive director, Jeffrey Chester, said the report appears to give the advertising industry too much influence. The administration didn't endorse the FTC's Do Not Track mechanism, which has garnered much support by privacy advocates, he said.

"The FTC provides a serious framework in the new staff report, Do Not Track, rules for consumer transparency and control," Chester said. "Commerce has just given the U.S. data collection giants an early Christmas present."

Related story:
FTC recommends Do Not Track program for privacy

By Cecilia Kang  | December 16, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  FTC, Privacy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Circuit: NTIA privacy report, Comcast stock, Facebook sales
Next: Pearlstein hits back at Google on antitrust


Another nanny govt issue. Get the &^(%$# out of regulation. It's intrusive, unnecessary, and drive ups the cost of the federal govt. Time to decrease your size and scope not find new things to regulate. Democrats just love to spend money. Count to 10 Obama and then take a deep breath. That urge will pass. If not may I recommend a 10 step program to break your bad habits.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | December 16, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thank God for government regulation! Without it we would not have safe food to eat or any workplace or product safety requirements. It was lack of regulation and enforcement that resulted in the BP oil spill. Your way would take us back to the days of Upton Sinclair.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | December 16, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

And somewhere in between these two comments lies the solution. Too bad as a country, we're really not interested in getting to that place.

Posted by: JohnDinHouston | December 16, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Amazing to me that Desertdiva has no concern what data is collected on her/him nor how it's used. I guess all new technologies that appear from now on should be unregulated because we've done a lousy job regulating in the past (where's the logic in that?). Of course corporations have only your best interest in mind--like the financial institutions that, once deregulated caused the great recession we're now reeling from.

It's amazing to me that repubs can still call dems the spenders after Bush caused the unbelievable deficit we're now faced with.

Ever notice how repubs are never responsible for anything that happens. There childlike minds would be entertaining if not so dangerous.

Also, Desertdiva's position is extremist, poncedeleroy's is really a conservative, mainstream opinion, yet for johndinhouston, the truth is in the middle of those 2 (so between common sense and silliness, the truth should be found by splitting the difference.

God save us, America.

Posted by: mokai | December 16, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Desertdiva is probably a lobbyist.

Posted by: jackintheboxjf | December 16, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Desertdiva is probably a lobbyist.

Posted by: jackintheboxjf | December 16, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Whenever I think about the possibility of Congress passing such legislation, I picture the Bill standing between two people: A tall lanky high school basketball player and a Roman Catholic teaching sister. And that's the chance the Bill has - between "Slim" and nun.

Posted by: Ex-Fed | December 16, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"The administration didn't endorse the FTC's Do Not Track mechanism, which has garnered much support by privacy advocates, he said."

Of course not. Because it doesn't really believe in privacy no matter what it claims.

Posted by: solsticebelle | December 16, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

No I'm not a lobbyist. I'm fed up with the size and scope of this stupid federal govt who wants to regulate everything. No I'm not Tea Party either but as a taxpayer we have to stop this craziness. You don't need your govt regulating the volume of your tv commercials, the privacy issue on the internet, seat belts, speed limits, motorcycle helmets etc etc. I'm tired of the federal govt intruding into my life I can decide for myself thank you. Obama and Pelosi aren't not exactly who I want to make decisions for me anyway.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | December 16, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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