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Could Obama’s Privacy Plan Threaten the Internet?

Adam Thierer speaks exclusively on Obama's "let's be more like Europe" privacy plan

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The ongoing debate over online privacy is in the spotlight once again. However, this time, it’s the White House that’s at the center of the controversy.

Last week, the Obama Administration announced a privacy plan that would give consumers more control over their data. In the first-ever introduction of federal privacy policy, the White House proposal calls for Internet companies, privacy groups, law enforcement agencies, and state attorneys general to work together and develop voluntary standards to ensure the highest protections for consumer data.

Would you like to see consumer privacy protected through regulation? Why or why not? Share your thoughts here.

(image) In the White Paper released by the Administration, President Obama wrote:

One thing should be clear, even though we live in a world in which we share personal information more freely than in the past, we must reject the conclusion that privacy is an outmoded value. It has been at the heart of our democracy from its inception, and we need it now more than ever.

Prior to the White House’s announcement, WebProNews spoke with Jules Polonetsky, the Director of the Future of Privacy Forum, who predicted that privacy legislation would ultimately come to the U.S.

“I think it’s clear that we are… eventually going to have a privacy law. The question is, whether it’s gonna be a good one,” he said. “If we are able to craft privacy law that supports innovation [and] gives users more protection, we’ll win.”

The framework from the President consists of 4 parts including a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a multi-stakeholder process to determine how the rights will apply to the context of business, an adequate enforcement model, and a commitment to strengthen interoperability between the privacy standards in the U.S. and its global partners. The “Bill of Rights” specifically offers the following provisions:

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

The “Bill of Rights” would be governed by multi-stakeholders, which the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is heading up. The proposal also asks Congress to grant the FTC and state attorneys general the power to enforce the “Bill of Rights.”

In order to promote global interoperability, the White House hopes to create “mutual recognition and enforcement cooperation” between countries. The idea is to make it easier for companies that transfer data across national borders.

Although the plan comes at time when privacy issues are at an all-time high, it is not completely welcomed by all. Privacy groups are pleased with it for the most part, but some of them have expressed concerns over the enforcement of it.

(image) Adam Thierer, who is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, also raised other concerns in an interview with WebProNews. According to him, the White House’s privacy framework is very similar to Europe’s privacy model, which he does not think is a good path for the U.S.

“If we went down the path that the Obama Administration’s proposing here, we would, in a fairly aggressive and comprehensive way, be establishing a new privacy regulatory framework for America,” he said.

Thierer told us the framework presents some good policies at the core, but he fears the “unintended consequences.” As he explained, the U.S. has traditionally taken a very bottom-up approach to privacy, while Europe has taken a more top-down approach driven by data directives and central data agencies.

“The path that Europe took a dozen years ago, which is again more heavy-handed and regulatory in focus, has led to a situation that’s very different for a lot of online providers in Europe to do business as effectively as they can here,” said Thierer.

If the plan is fully executed, he believes the cost of doing business for many companies would increase since most of them make money through behavioral advertising methods. Data aggregation and other forms of behavioral advertising provide the revenue to back free services such as Web-based email and social networks that consumers depend everyday. If regulation limits these tactics, not only could these services result in paid products, but it could also decrease future innovations.

“Information is the fuel that powers the digital economy,” Thierer pointed out.

Another concern that Thierer has is that regulation could negatively impact U.S. competitiveness. He believes that America’s lack of regulation has resulted in multiple global leaders in the digital marketplace.

“It’s tough for me to name any major European companies in the social media or digital space that are global leaders,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an accident.”

He went on to say that the U.S. fears if it doesn’t conform to some of the guidelines that other nations do, it would not have a voice, which would give Europe more control over U.S. businesses. Thierer admits that this is a “fair concern” but suggests the U.S. should defend and promote its practices instead of adopting the others.

Under the White House’s proposal, agencies, particularly the FTC and the Department of Commerce, would have to be very aggressive in making sure companies were abiding by the policies. Interestingly, we’ve already seen an increased effort in this regard as both Google and Facebook have experienced a lot of scrutiny recently.

Google has especially been under fire for its new privacy policy that is set to go into effect on March 1. But, Thierer told us the companies that collect data without permission should be the greater focus of the framework.

The proposal indicated that privacy controls were needed for “maintaining consumer trust in network technologies,” “sustaining the trust that nurtures Internet commerce and fuels innovation,” and for ensuring greater “participation in a democratic society.” However, as Thierer pointed out, it doesn’t appear that consumers are shying away from sites like Facebook or Google.

While he thinks the FTC and other agencies should actively enforce laws to protect consumers, he is concerned that an increased regulation would only result in harm.

“Whether we like it or not, the Federal Trade Commission is sort of becoming America’s de facto data agency,” said Thierer.

“It’s clear that there’s a lot more oversight on the way from Washington on privacy,” he added.

Incidentally, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has spoken out in support of the Administration’s proposal. More than likely, the alliance is making sure that it has a seat at the table when policies such as a “Do Not Track” are implemented.

Thierer told us a better approach to privacy concerns would be a more selective or “as needed” type of solution. For example, he believes narrow laws pertaining to specific sectors would be better and would help to develop the marketplace.

Thierer also pointed out that consumers need to take more responsibility for their actions online. He thinks educating consumers about their digital footprint and how they can have “better data hygiene” is a very important part of solving privacy issues.

“I think that the personal responsibility angle deserved more than the one paragraph that it got in the Obama Administration’s report,” he said.

In the proposal, the Administration has asked Congress to adopt the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and give the FTC and state attorneys general the power to enforce them. However, both Thierer and Polonetsky told us that it was very unlikely that anything would happen in this regard this year given the election year and other pressing issues. In other words, it looks like this debate is only going to continue.

Where do you stand on these issues? Is President Obama’s framework the answer to privacy concerns? Or, does it threaten the future of the Internet and digital development? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Could Obama’s Privacy Plan Threaten the Internet?
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  • http://century-club.com J “Rolin” Stone

    I’d rather have my government regulating the telecoms, than the other way around. Yes, my privacy and freedom using the internet is of paramount importance, above all other considerations. We don’t need any more constitutional infringements on our civil and private rights.

  • What T.F. Isgoingon

    Anything and everything the dictator does is evil, designed to destroy, anit-American, pro-Muslim and narcissistic. To hell with anything he proposes. It will bit us in the butt one way or another.

    • Greg

      We need thoughtful, intelligent discussion about what and how to protect individual and corporate privacy in the internet age.

      Those choosing to make comments about espionage, pro-Muslim, anti-American only show their bias and ignorance of the topic.

      • Rodger

        Greg & James you’re the ones that need to wake up. Our Constitution is being destroyed right in front of us and the sleepy, everybody’s happy liberals are completely brainwashed. Big Government is just getting even bigger with every day that Barry stays in office. Now he wants more CONTROL by regulating the internet. Sounds like a great idea if you live in a Communist country…wait, we almost do.

    • James

      Typical rubbish from someone who can not even spell or use “bite” in the correct context…

  • http://honorthymother.blogspot.com/ cutdeep

    I believe this to be nothing more than window dressing for espionage. I have battled “Abuse of Police Powers for over 14 yrs & NOTHING is as it is said it is. period! NOTHING.

  • http://www.pongowongo.com FrankoTanko

    We sure do not need additional regualtions and laws that limit free enterprise and the ability for the US to be a global economic leader. WE already have consumer protection laws on the books that serve us quite well. When a company oversteps its boundaries, they get sued. There are pletny of class-action attorneys out there making a killing on privacy infringment.
    We need less government control and more personal and corporate responsibilty. There are adequate free market forces at play to drive these concerns.
    Run away power in the hands of the corporations or the government ends up limiting our freedoms. The current administration is on a power grab to control every facet of our lives and make us uterly dependent on the government for everything.
    Corporations would have it the same way, but when the free market is is allowed to regulate itself, and fail by itself, everyone wins.

  • http://the-web-professor.com Jim Davies

    Wow! All we need is one more regulation! We used to be treated like adults and as such we had to make some good decisions on our own…

    I hope enough of you remember what personal reliability really means to get i n the way of anymore regulations. I am particularly concerned with what is going on in the UN!!!

  • Steve Kinney

    I will believe that Washington can create and enforce meaningful “data privacy” legislation when I see it. The process of creating such regulations is a tug of war between multi-billion dollar corporations and advocacy groups with shoestring budgets and a vocal, but fundamentally ignorant and easily deceived public support base. The winners and losers are clearly defined before the game begins.

    On the Internet, you can have as much privacy as you can steal. AdBlock, NoScript, and TOR are your friends. Almost your only friends.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Abby Johnson

      You’re right, Steve – it sounds good on paper, but whether or not these groups can actually work together remains one of the biggest challenges.

  • http://www.synagermos.eu/ synagermoi

    we need less taxes and see the best citizen in the eye

  • http://N/a Peter Gardiner

    Why would I want a government that can arrest anybody, hold them without trial indefinitely, declare war on whom they want with organized torture camps etc poking into my internet connections. Not for my moral enhancement for sure.

  • http://wredlich.com Warren Redlich

    The Bill of Rights protects us from the government.

    Obama’s new “privacy bill of rights” increases government power over us, the opposite of what the Bill of Rights.

  • Cj

    We are at a point in history where the Internet has become a threat to Big Government. It is no co-incidence that we are being barraged by government attempts to regulate the Internet. Asking Government to protect your privacy is like asking the fox to protect your chickens.

  • http://Facebook DL

    Anything the great dictator proposes is a cloak for more control and intrusion into your lives. Not trying to be an alarmist and I don’t see black helicopters, but enough is enough. This guy truly wants to rule the world and we are apparently too stupid to realize it because we haven’t thrown him out of office yet and there are still plenty of wild eyed people who get a tingle up their legs whe his name is mentioned who will vote for him again, blindly………

  • http://www.trafficconnection.com Lou

    What we need is a bill to protect us from Government.

    Oh yah, we have one- The Bill of Rights.

  • http://www.worldtravelingartist.com Alexander

    It already does threaten the internet!

  • anna

    The answer is HELL NO! Keep Washington out of my face, my life and my business. So sick and tiered of government “protecting me” BS!

    • Greg

      Please note…. Google is tracking your every move – not Washington DC.

      It was my opinion that intelligent people read these articles…
      The majority of posts listed here prove differently.

      • Cj

        Please note…. I don’t have to use Google. I DO have to obey laws. Using government force to restrict freedom of choice is NOT intelligent.

  • http://www.thewatchprince.com Doug

    Right now, I can Google my name, and see a lot of information about me and my family. The “Privacy Train” left the station a long time ago. Will Obama’s law remove all of this info about me and my family from the Internet? No. It would be one more government intrusion that does nothing to solve the issue of privacy. Rather, it would reduce it by having the government looking at more data.

  • http://www.laymanwebdesign.com Obdurate

    When this “constitutional scholar” figures out that we live in a Republic, not a democracy then I’ll pay more attention to his white papers. Until then, let’s see what Congress does since they pass laws.

  • Tom Truthteller

    This administration has a record of more government encroachment, not less. My guess is that their motivation is not what anyone would hope who believes that more privacy would result.

  • http://heronbilliards.com.au M Heron

    freedom is more important then privacy. We fought numerous wars for it and now its being taken away bit by bit. The privacy laws are a smokescreen for liars, cheats, politicians and buracrasy to to hide behind. We need to wake up and fight against this ongoing campaign to take away our freedoms. Surely there are people out there somewhere prepared to stand up and fight against the total enslavemment of ordinary people

    • Cj

      There are plenty of people willing to fight for freedom in America. It’s called the Ron Paul campaign. Don’t just ask – be a part of it!

  • kevin

    People need to be aware that this is just another attempt to control alternative media by the corporate elite. The mainstream media is losing the battle of truth and they are desperate to keep control of the mass public and I hope people wake up to this fact.

  • http://users.adam.com.au/brianbrain/index.html Brains

    To my way of thinking the American government has allowed it self to be totally corrupted by greed and power and is now paranoid that it has lost the power to control and is becoming the dictator off the worldand should be,like all governments run for the benefit of the world not just the 1% that have the money gained by inside trading.

  • http://www.blogtips.ca enzo testa

    Obama’s privacy plan can never threaten the internet. You cannot control the internet. It’s like saying one can control the world. The internet is like flowing water. Impossible. Sure the country govt may try to control what comes and goes from their territories but overall? Forget it!

    • http://connectthedots2006.blogspot.com connect the dots

      Enzo, I’m afraid you’re living in a dream world. We’ve been spoiled by the absolute freedom of the world wide web — in the Western World — so far.

      Jealous greedy politicians have been trying to figure out ways to control and tax it ever since it became a viable commercial venue.

    • http://glennfurniture.com Glenn Madden

      How many wars have been fought, how many people have died over controlling water?

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Captain Cyberzone

    When ever, historically, the Government involves itself in the affairs of Private business the Government makes one big bureaucratic, resource wasting mess of it (case-in-point the U.S. Government’s involvement into the U.S. housing market is responsible for “sub-prime mortgage investments” which has nearly bankrupted the World’s economy)!
    Doesn’t history also say that the devil is left-handed?

    • Greg

      Cyberzombie… case in point… unregulated wall street banks caused the financial/mortgage crisis not government involvement.

      Does anybody here actually read anything?

      • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Captain Cyberzone

        Gregie,
        The Government coerced Wall St. banks who were forced (ever hear of Janet Reno?) to give unsubstantial mortgages to minorities (part of the CRT and promoted by Andrew Cuomo, then the head of HUD) with the collusion of the Gov.Asst’d Org. Fannie Mae caused the crisis … the Wall St. banks just devised a way to pass on the risk and make a dollar which is what banks are in business for.
        You obviously don’t “read enough” yet have convinced yourself that when your pre-set “buttons” are pushed that that suffices as knowledge.

  • http://connectthedots2006.blogspot.com connect the dots

    Why would ANYONE believe ANTHING obowmao says? I do not trust him.

    If he wants to control internet privacy, it’s perhaps to remove the commercial interests from having any say in it and having only the GOVERNMENT control/regulate.

    DO NOT TRUST THIS MAN (or anyone else in government that wants to regulate us MORE).

  • http://glennfurniture.com Glenn Madden

    It goes back to the old saying “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” same thing goes for privacy. If someone wants to know your information they will find it.

    All privacy laws are going to do is give more control of the Internet to the government.

  • herefornow

    Go for a strong privacy policy. It’s ridiculous what these companies can know and keep track of you with impunity, selling your information, or even losing it to hackers. For those who don’t like big government, consider Somalia. No big government there. Does a real lot of good for their citizenry, doesn’t it. Wake up! It’s either the government or the extremely wealthy corporations that will have the final say on your privacy. You have to trust someone with your privacy rights. Privacy is a part of your freedom. The question is, who’s it going to be? The government you elected? Or the corporations that have no goal other than the pursuit of money (your money)? Would you like to settle your differences with one of their bought and paid for “arbitration boards” when your privacy is breached? Just look up your name or cell number on any search engine. It’s not as freely available as you would think. It’s for sale.

    At the same time, I think there should be some protection for companies that get flamed on review sites, ruining their business, with just the opinion of an irate person who may not have even stepped foot in the establishment they’re complaining about, or had any relationship with them at all. I don’t own a business, but I’ve worked for many, and that’s where my bread and butter comes from. They should be protected, too. The internet has its own set of risks for businesses, and who are they going to rely on? Irate consumers? Or, the government they elected.

    Knock it off with the big goverment crap, and get involved to make it work right. All the insults in the world won’t accomplish a thing. But a little effort will go a long way. Think I’m dreaming? Maybe you should wake up.

    • Cj

      America has a Constitution. There is a world of difference between Big Government and Constitutional Government.

      The very thing you hate – corporatism – can only exist through Big Government. Corporations can only rule your life if they can wipe out the competition. Have a look at who is funding the presidential candidates, and see if you can work out who is for the people and who is for the corporations. Then take a look at who gets ignored the most by the mass media. Yes – the very same media that fills your life with information – that creates your world view.

      Use the Internet to do some research on the presidential candidates and you will discover a very different reality.

      • herefornow

        I don’t hate corporations. I just trust them much less than the government. And corporatism does not need big government to exist. All it needs is power over the government. Yes, corporations can only rule your life if they can wipe out the competition… which is exactly what they do when regulations are diminished.

        • Cj

          “All it needs is power over the government”

          I am willing to concede to your argument BUT I need concrete examples.

          1) Please give an example where a corporation has bullied a government.

          2) Please give an example where lack of regulation has created a corporate monopoly (regulation that is not covered by basic rule of law).

          I need to see your point of view.

  • Rand Paul

    Sure great idea, every click on the internet will show 10 pages of legal mubo-jumbo that you are forced to read before getting to your contract. I just love spending hours reading privacy statements.

  • herefornow

    Actually, let’s get rid of the legal mumbo jumbo and force them to put everything in clear and concise English. Legalese is a bunch of crap that’s supposed to prevent loopholes, but in reality creates much more than it prevents. Doesn’t matter if it’s one page (like you have on millions of sites right now) or 10 pages. BS is BS, and no one but lawyers ever read it. Clear English is “We will not sell any information about you to any other party without your specific consent. Your consent will be required for each party we sell any information to. We will tell you who we are selling your information to, and provide their privacy policy for your review.” Really friggin’ difficult, huh? Here’s how we should treat sites as a rule of thumb: Any site that requires more than 300 words to describe their privacy policy, is a site you should leave.

    • http://gocabrera.com Adrian

      Almost the first comment on here to make sense!

      Privacy should start with “your information being private” If you want to agree to it being disbursed you should be given the option to allow this. As things stand, particularly it seems with Goggle’s new Privacy Policy, they have the right to collect as much data as they want and use it as they decide. Your only choice is accept this or stop using any Goggle service.

      All service providers who obtain any personal information should be obliged to respect your privacy first and only share, sell or use that with your specific agreement not the other way round where they may or may not give you options to restrict usage hidden away in small print that 95% of internet users never read.

  • chase

    It sad that we have to have such laws, that we actually have to regulate this or that.

    But the fact remains every time you deregulate, from top to bottom you have the assholes of the world that take advantage. Whether its due to increasing profit margins, cutting costs, passing the buck and shirking responsibilities, or blatantly disregarding others, the ecology, or what have you.

    Do we need a law for every little thing? Not if people did the right thing. Not you don’t build a country based on he who has the most toys in the end wins.

    Not if MS and others including the Government, didn’t slow access to private info, and or collect info by any means for whatever they want.

    I have wonder here, you have a Government concerned now when they went out of their way to invoke Carnivore Eschilan, etc and privatized data collection on its citizens.

    Let them do what they [the Government] want, pad the laws they want, they are only put in place to help those that contribute major monies to their all mighty race to sit in the musical chair anyway. The rest of us just have to do what we can to protect the “we” of this nation, from the”them” that miss use the powers the have.

  • http://www.navajowool.com Cheryl Gordon

    …more government regulation?
    hmmmm, land of the free, home of the brave?
    What has happened?
    Lets take back USA!

  • http://www.americansforgrowth.com/ Alex Majthenyi

    The only one I don’t like tracking me is the government. To put them in charge of privacy is insane!

    No thank you. I can take care of my own privacy.

  • James

    This works well in the UK and means we dont get our details passed on to 3 party companies who then overload us with spam and junk.
    If you dont like it, you have an option for them not to control your data.
    It’s really there to proctect you. Dont see what all the fuss is about? Too much coffee??

  • http://www.inversearch.com Joe Cibula

    Self-regulation is the the way; inverse search is the means.

  • http://ezvaporizers.com Portable Vaporizer

    Yes they need to regulate it. As it stands now these major companies can tell us legally “we have all this data on you, and no you cannot delete it”. That’s insane. These sites that track us will gladly hand our info over to the government just for the asking, so if you don’t want the government tracking you then don’t willingly hand over your info to websites with no recourse or way to delete it ALL. If any of these sites gave a sh*t about our privacy they would have a one-click “delete everything” button. They only care about your user experience to the point of where you might demand full access to your info, then it becomes smoke and mirrors: “Yea we WANT you to have access to it, you just can’t control it because we might lose money.” Sites like Google have already handicapped affiliate marketers, its about time they had someone push their buttons. I for one am sick of this omnipotent Google telling me what the f is OK or can be done and that what they say is internet “law” and for the good of everyone. BS.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Daniel

    The article states that if the laws went through, this would not be until next year. Therefore, for those not wishing to have their personal data out on the web, you can remove all historical traces from your Google, Facebook,etc,etc Accounts.

    Even considering the various breadcrumbs that would undoubtedly remain, you would at least have bought a considerable amount of time, as the remaining breadcrumbs need to be gathered and collated.

  • herefornow

    The government is tracking you, numerous corporations are tracking you, insurance companies are tracking you, your hospitals and pharmacies are tracking you, the FBI has files on you, fringe groups may be tracking you. There’s really no way to stop it, but we should have someone or some laws that will prevent the abuse of this information. We should have some recourse. I don’t see that coming from private enterprise, particularly since they’re motivated by money and could easily be swayed by the highest bidder. I’d rather have someone that I can at least vote against, and write about in the newspaper (without getting a slapsuit), blogs, etc., if they’re not on the up and up. Most people who don’t trust the government have a completely different notion when their party’s in charge. It’s nothing new. Big brother has been around for more than a few decades. Actually, for millennia. Nothing new here.

  • Town Cars San Diego

    I think regulation is a good idea… And a lot of companies And departments have guidelines in plAce Already. Integrity in todays world is a must.. AnD With All the information Avaiable Some good And some not so good I learned stay with good news…. definately makes thingS A lot easier…. Our children deserve the best.

  • http://www.canlookup.com Rex

    Regulation of the internet will accomplish one thing as far as I can see. It will make the creation of offshore havens for ISP and eCommerce businesses, like tax havens, a reality sooner rather than later. Pass laws that protect your corporate citizens doing online business or information gathering and watch the lineup form for business licenses.

    Plus, virtually all of the damaging uses of personal information online is done by criminals, and I doubt more regulations are going to hinder them at all.

    Lastly, it is everyone’s right to privacy, but if you give out your personal information to anyone, you chose to forfeit that right. If someone fails to read the fine print where is says that your information will be sold, too bad. Pretty much anyone with a credit card or magazine subscription already signed away their rights to not have their information passed on. We do not need more law, rules and regulations. What’s needed is a law forcing consumers to read agreements before they sign them. Naturally, that would be as enforceable as any other regulations imposing restrictions of a media that is global and therefore outside the jurisdiction of any one nation.

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    i been spent 15 mins in this site.i really thank you to share the information and its entertain me a lot

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