Privacy Day Draws a Crowd

Data Privacy Day drew a lot of attention in Washington Wednesday as various groups and individuals used the date to put an exclamation point on their privacy issues, including updating outdated laws.

The day marks the anniversary of the 1981 signing of the first binding international treaty on privacy and data protection.

Here is just a sampling of the  input from industry, public interest groups and Congress.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) questioned DEA's use of a national database to track vehicles around the United States. “We remain concerned that government programs that track citizens’ movements, see inside homes, and collect data from the phones of innocent Americans raise serious privacy concerns," they said in a joint statement.

Reps. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus marked the date with a call for better data privacy protections. "As technology becomes a larger part of our personal and professional lives, we must ensure that everybody knows how to protect their personal information online," they said. "It is vital that consumers are informed about their rights to privacy online. It is also vital that businesses are held accountable for keeping consumers’ information safe. Digital innovation and preserving personal privacy can and should go hand in hand.”

From a column written by Software & Information Industry Association senior director of Public Policy David LeDuc. "[E]stablishing a sense of trust and fairness is critical for data-driven innovation that maximizes social innovation and economic growth, and balances this with the appropriate level of privacy. Herein is the most important theme of Data Privacy Day: if consumers lack trust…the opportunities for transformative consumer benefit are simply not possible over the long term.”

The Information Technology Industry Council used the day to call for an update of privacy laws. "[w]e urge Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)," ITI's Yael Weinman wrote. "Last week, ITI joined a wide range of stakeholders in asking lawmakers to act quickly to reform this outdated law by requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant to gain access to online communications. When ECPA was passed in 1986, Congress didn’t envision a connected world where people’s electronic communications like email would go online beyond their hard drives. There is strong bipartisan support for ECPA reform and there is no reason for delaying updating this law to ensure that online user communications have important privacy protections. Updating ECPA would also ensure that all communications are equally protected — whether they are communicating online or offline, it shouldn’t matter."

Also seeking an ECPA revamp was the Computer & Communications Industry Association and Digital 4th (comprising the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Democracy & Technology and Heritage Action for America).

“Americans have the same expectation of privacy whether material exists on paper or electronically," said CCIA President Ed Black. "But our laws do not reflect that reality. It’s time to change that — voters support it, numerous trade and public interest groups support it and so do the 270 members of Congress that cosponsored ECPA reform legislation last year. The statute governing access to electronic communications was written in 1986, well before most Americans relied on email and mobile devices to communicate. After nearly 30 years on the books, it’s long overdue for an update. What better time to take it up than Data Privacy Day?

“As the new Congress convenes and looks for areas of bipartisan support, updating our communications privacy laws should be a no-brainer. In the face of significant government overreach in surveillance, ECPA reform presents a clear opportunity to strengthen Americans’ online privacy rights."

“Our digital privacy laws haven’t been updated in almost 29 years, making ECPA reform more important now than ever before," said Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action for America. "Digital 4th is excited to build on the momentum from last Congress and work to ensure protections for Americans’ personal online communications. We look forward to working with Members of Congress, tech companies and other privacy groups to update ECPA for the technology of today and tomorrow."

The Retail Industry Association put in a plug for data breach legislation.

“Retailers are at the cutting edge of the 21st century digital economy and want to continue to provide innovative solutions for their customers," said Nicholas Ahrens, VP for cybersecurity and data privacy. "Retailers also realize there are risks that every sector of the U.S. economy must guard against. Nation state actors, cybercriminals, and hacktivists are increasingly targeting American businesses on a scale not seen before. In the face of these cyber-attacks, retailers are committed to fostering and enhancing customer trust, which is why we support a federal data breach law to provide consumers the clear communication they deserve and give businesses a single, national standard when cybercriminals defeat defenses and steal sensitive data.”

"My advice to Data Privacy Day knowledge seekers is that our 2015 security practices need to take a different approach, as the old ones do not appear to be working," said Kurt Mueffelmann, CEO of data protection provider Cryptzone. "Giving users access to everything is no longer a viable option with malware attacks and other vulnerabilities allowing hackers to gain entry unnoticed. Companies need to layer their defenses to ensure that they limit what users can see once within the walls of the trusted network, based on who they are and other important variables, and then control what they can do with sensitive information."

"Today is Data Privacy Day, an occasion when businesses, governments, regulators and advocates around the world recognize and highlight the importance of data protection and privacy," an Intel exec blogged. "Intel helped bring Data Privacy Day to North America seven years ago and is honored to work with the National Cyber Security Alliance to continue to use the day to promote privacy awareness and recognize the core privacy values shared globally. Data Privacy Day has grown each year, as Privacy issues have become more central to how individuals use technology and live their lives."

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.