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Consumer Groups Warn Obama Privacy Law Could Be Dominated By Industry

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Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 10:47 am

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Consumer Groups Warn Obama Privacy Law Could Be Dominated By Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A “multi-stakeholder process” to develop online privacy codes advocated today by the Obama Administration runs the risk of being dominated by industry and failing to protect consumers if it is not organized in a fair and balanced manner, six public interest groups warned.

The groups include Consumer Watchdog, The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, U.S. PIRG and the World Privacy Forum.

The groups also said that any meaningful privacy legislation should direct the Federal Trade Commission to create and enforce a “Do Not Track Me” mechanism.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee today, Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling called for baseline privacy legislation on behalf of the Administration.  He said it 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.

Noting that industry has the resources to completely overwhelm consumers in this process, the groups said that the involvement of a multi-stakeholder process should inform, not replace, rulemaking.

If the Department of Commerce initiates a “multi-stakeholder process” to develop detailed privacy guidelines, the groups said that it should be fashioned along the lines suggested by the World Privacy Forum in its comments on the agency’s green paper last December:

1) Consumer and business representation be equal in any multi-stakeholder process.

2) Approval of consumer representatives must be a necessary element in any normal decisions, just as the approval of business will be necessary.

3) Consumers must select their own representatives through a process yet to be determined, and consumer representatives may not be designated or limited by business or government.

4) Consumer organizations that require financial assistance to participate in the multi-stakeholder process should receive support for travel and other expenses (but not for staff support).

5) Government agencies may participate in the process, but no agency may have a vote.

6) Participants in the process must chose their own rules and presiding officer.

7) Certifiers of accountability with codes of conduct should be not-for-profit organizations that are wholly independent of business, consumers, and government

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Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, CA.  Consumer Watchdog’s website is http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org. Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://insidegoogle.com.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 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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