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Cause For Concern About Washington’s Privacy Drive

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Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

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Cause For Concern About Washington’s Privacy Drive

The Obama Administration threw its weight behind privacy legislation Wednesday as Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling testified before the Senate Commerce Committee about online privacy. Clearly Washington is focusing on privacy issues, but will meaningful consumer protections be enacted?

There is cause for concern.

It’s the first time the White House has endorsed the idea of privacy legislation and Senators John Kerry, D-MA, and John McCain, R-AZ, are working on a bipartisan privacy bill.  Representatives Bobby Rush, D-Il, and Cliff Stearns, R-FL, have separate privacy bills, while Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, has introduced “Do Not Track Me” legislation.

But the Commerce Department is in the driver’s seat on the issue for the Obama Administration.  Commerce is all about promoting business, not about protecting consumers.

Strickling  told the Committee that privacy legislation should be based on Fair Information Practices (FIPs) and provide a sort of “bill of privacy rights.”  He said the specific rules should be developed through a process that includes stakeholders from the commercial, consumer advocacy and academic sectors, rather than a usual regulatory process.

Industry has the resources to completely overwhelm consumers in this bogus process that the Commerce Department envisions.  Conventional rule-making has safeguards for a reason. It’s also subject to judicial review.

Commerce’s effort is all about paying lip service to Consumers’ demands for protection while promoting a new privacy law  that is designed to help leading U.S. online marketing companies, including Google and Facebook, head-off stronger privacy rules by the European Union.

The danger is that it’s likely any legislation will merely codify current online industry self-regulatory schemes, which provide no real protection.

Another troubling aspect are the behind-the-scenes links.  The leading candidate for  privacy legislation in the Senate is a Kerry-McCain bill. Staffers are still hammering out mutually acceptable language.

A key player in the Commerce Department’s initiative is Cameron Kerry, the department’s general counsel. He’s Sen. Kerry’s brother, a point he acknowledged at Thursday’s hearing “as a slight nepotism going on here.” “They’ve done it without my instruction, on their own,” the senator said.

Meanwhile, Pablo Chavez, now Google’s Public Policy Director in Washington, used to be McCain’s chief counsel.  You can bet the Internet giant’s views will fall on receptive ears as the bill is drafted.

Yes, everyone in Washington is talking the privacy talk.  It remains to be shown that anybody will actually walk the walk.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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One Response to “Cause For Concern About Washington’s Privacy Drive”

  1. Zeek Says:

    Leave it to the idiots in DC to determine what’s right for the everyday folks in this country. How many Senators in DC know what PII stands for?? How many jobs will be lost?? How much ecommerce will be lost?? This is their focus when the country is still flailing with massive unemployment, record setting deficits (state and federal) skyrocketing taxes and deteriorating infrastructure?? Does Congress not understand just how many companies have our private information and would only use it to our disdvantage? Relevant advertising should never be punished. These companies shouls be applauded for creating a better online experience and pumping millions (billions actually) in to the economy by providing advertiser’s an effective tool to reach the right consumers all while knowing absolutely zero about that person except an IP address. Think about how many companies have far more info on you than that: Insurance companies, cable/satellite companies, the USPS (a government run entity itself), credit card companies and the list goes on…but go ahead Washington – continue to flex your muscle and drive the country back down in to what we are still tryingh to crawl out of.

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