Obama unveils push for Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

President Obama Thursday unveiled a model for a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" that includes input from companies, privacy advocates, international partners and other stakeholders.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

President Obama Thursday unveiled a model to protect consumer's privacy online and outlined the centerpiece called the "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights."

In the face of growing online privacy debates, the White House hopes to provide users with more control over their personal information while giving business opportunities to thrive in the evolving digital markets.

The Obama model has three parts in addition to the Privacy Bill of Rights: how the rights will apply in a business context, enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and integration between the United States' effort and those of international partners.

As part of the announcement, the Administration said the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) hopes to tap web browser technology that controls online tracking as part of a Do Not Track campaign. The DAA says Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL will comply when users choose to limit tracking, and the FTC will provide enforcement.

"American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," President Obama said.

The announcement was met with mixed reviews.  The Center for Digital Democracy said it would join negotiation to develop new consumer online privacy safeguards.

"We recognize that in the absence of federal legislation, the inability of the FTC to issue regulations, and the ever-increasing digital data collection system, some progress must be made to protect consumers," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD).

But Chester said he is concerned the DAA's work could collide with privacy work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group has been meeting since September 2011, and holds weekly teleconferences.

The group's charter states it is working to "improve user privacy and user control by defining mechanisms for expressing user preferences around Web tracking and for blocking or allowing Web tracking elements." Microsoft, Mozilla, the FTC, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the European Union Commission and the CDD have all provided in-put.

In addition, the CDD and the Electronic Privacy Information Center both said they were concerned that the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights only went as far as to outline codes of conduct instead of hard and fast rules.

"We would have preferred the White House to introduce new legislation that clearly protected consumers online," said Chester.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is outlined in a report released today entitled: Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.

The White House has tapped the Commerce Department to bring together companies, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop and implement privacy policies.

The seven tenets of the Bills of Rights are:

  • 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.

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