White House's Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is misleading, doesn't solve the real problem

We're still subject to unreasonable and unsafe demands by those we need to do business with, study with, or get care from.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Any time the government of the United States does anything with the intent of protecting privacy, it's worth applauding. Unfortunately, sometimes those moves seem more like public relations ploys than actual solutions.

This may be the case with the newly announced Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

In spirit, the idea is to give consumers the right to decide whether or not browsing activity should be tracked, how data is retained from advertising networks, and other basic Internet privacy activities. The actual guidelines for the Consumer Privacy Bill or Rights are quite broad, as CNET's Elinor Mills reports.

The problem is this approach completely misses the privacy violations perpetrated against Americans by the authorities they trust.

Back in 2009, I wrote an article for FrontLine Security Magazine entitled, "Is Your Doctor, School or Government Putting You At Risk for ID Theft?" In it, I described how schools would often demand an identity-theft kit worth of information from their students, how doctors offices required an excessive supply of personally identifying information, and even how government agencies would publish personal information online.

None of these privacy transgressions (and the dozens of others we all encounter as part of our functioning in modern society) are addressed in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. We're still subject to unreasonable and unsafe demands by those we need to do business with, study with, or get care from.

I'm glad to see a small step taken by this government to address privacy issues, but I have to be honest. I'm far less concerned if Google knows I went to yet another muscle car web site than I am that my doctor's office insists on keeping copies of my drivers' license in a manila folder along with an image of my credit card, my social security number, my home address, my various phone numbers, and my health records.

I call on the government and, specifically, the White House to expand this so-called "bill of rights" to protections that really matter. After all, the FTC tells us (PDF) that there are millions of identity theft and fraud complaints each year. This is where we need to be putting our attention.

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