CDD: Drop Multistakeholder Model and Legislate Privacy

The government should scrap its attempts to get companies to self-regulate data privacy and legislate safeguards.

That was the advice of the Center for Digital Democracy to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is the White House's chief communications policy advisory body. It joined with the ACLU, the Consumer Federation of America, Common Sense Media and others in calling for strong consumer privacy legislation.

NTIA sought comment on White House reports on "big data," which is the broadband-enabled collection, storage and use of massive amounts of data for commercial use.

CDD says while it appreciates the White House attention to the issue, he says he thinks the White House has "failed to adequately acknowledge the looming threat nearly every American currently faces from today's pervasive commercial data collection environment."

The White House has suggested that its consumer privacy bill of rights needs a legislative backstop, but CDD executive director Jeff Chester says the time to do that is now. The administration has also been behind the multistakeholder effort to come up with best practices for the individual elements of the privacy bill of rights, app privacy and facial recognition.

Chester, who has been a critic of that process, says it should be replaced by relevant agency rulemakings, including by the Federal Trade Commission, which he says needs to be given rulemaking authority over privacy.

Currently, the FTC can enforce privacy policies, but only if companies have them and don't abide by them, which falls under its enforcement of unfair and deceptive practices.

Chester says legislation should make it clear that businesses should refrain from ubiquitous data collection and profiling, and should concede that self-regulation has failed.

CDD also says the FTC, FCC and other agencies should have to report within six months after legislation is enacted on how Big Data practices can discriminate on the basis of race/ethnicity, sexual origin, income, age, and more.

One of the concerns NTIA has raised is over profiling, where marketers collect data and target ad according to assumptions about the consumer.  Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has also been a big critic of the data broker practice of putting online consumers in categories like "rural and barely making it" and "ethnic second-city
strugglers" for marketing purposes.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.