Privacy White Paper Draws More Reactions

Support for the White House's privacy recommendations continued to pour in after the Commerce Department released its White Paper report outlining a privacy bill of rights.

The report emphasized voluntary compliance, said stronger online privacy protections "may" need to be extended to kids and teens, and did not add specific categories of personal information most in need of protection, though it indicated that should be expanded from the narrow focus on health and financial records to other information shared on social networking sites. It defined personal data as "any data, including aggregations of data, which is linkable to a specific individual."

Online privacy advocates have called for expanding personal information to videos and photos posted on Web sites, particularly by young people.

The Administration backs legislation to codify that bill of rights, but in the interim -- it will be tough to pass any major legislation in what remains of the election season -- is looking for the Federal Trade Commission to enforce it.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), backers of privacy legislation, praised the administration move, but Markey suggested legislation is also still doable. "The Obama administration's framework announced today is an important starting point for strengthening privacy protections for consumers," said Markey. "There is strong bipartisan support for [Markey and Barton's] Do Not Track Kids Act and the larger issue of online privacy," he said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to pass the Do Not Track Kids Act this year to strengthen privacy safeguards and ensure that kids and teens are protected when they go online."

"A consumer privacy bill of rights is a critical public policy proposal," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who, along with Markey and Barton, is among the loudest legislative voices for online privacy legislation. "I have long advocated for consumer privacy protections and will continue to push for legislation because I believe consumer privacy is a right, not a luxury. Furthermore, I welcome the news by industry that participating companies will be taking steps to honor a user's do-not-track request. I will closely monitor implementation of the new industry effort to make sure that consumer expectations are, in fact, being met."

"The White House privacy plan is a sophisticated balance of consumer privacy protections and support for innovation," said Christopher Wolf, co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum. "By staking out the key concepts of a bill of rights and focusing on how stakeholders can immediately begin to work on addressing industry-specific privacy concerns, the proposal could deliver on real protections quickly."

"USTelecom supports an approach that provides a consistent privacy framework for all stakeholders in the Internet economy that moves away from regulatory stovepipes and toward policies based on consumer welfare and economic efficiency," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick Jr. "We are therefore encouraged by the department's recognition that federal laws should not treat similar technologies within the communications sector differently. We look forward to working with the Department of Commerce and other industry stakeholders to advance this important issue."

Senior Analyst Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, suggested self-regulation by itself was enough. "We applaud the Administration for embracing a multi-stakeholder framework for enhancing consumer privacy," he said in a statement. "Technology companies and online advertisers have made substantial progress over the past year in deploying new tools to enable consumer control and awareness of how their private data is used. As ITIF has previously detailed, self-regulation is an effective and important tool to protect consumers while creating a flexible environment for innovation. "

"It is critically important that modern privacy protection frameworks recognize that innovation in our global information economy will require thoughtful and responsible collection and use of data," said Yahoo in a statement. "It is also critical that self-regulatory structure play a large and growing role within these frameworks."

Yahoo is one of the companies that has committed to making a do-not-track option part of its search engine.

But it was not all laurels and backslaps.

The Consumer Federation of America's applause was muted by its contention that the proposals of a broadband bill of rights and advertiser industry commitments to browser-based do-not-track mechanisms was headed in the right direction, but would depend on the legitimacy of the stakeholder efforts to determine how much progress was made in breaking the logjam between advocacy groups and industry over privacy protections.

Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center said that, though well-intentioned, "a privacy police force isn't likely to work -- at least not without continuous governmental interventions to try to put the digital genie back in its bottle. Such efforts will be costly, increasingly intrusive, and likely to open the door to many other forms of Internet regulation." He said the result could be higher prices for online services and sites.

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.