Privacy

Commerce Dept. suggests online “privacy Bill of Rights”

December 17, 2010
The U.S. Department of Commerce on Thursday issued a report outlining a new proposed approach for addressing online privacy issues, recommending that a “privacy Bill of Rights” for online consumers be established.

The report comes on the heels of a separate privacy proposal issued earlier this month by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which, among other recommendations, calls for the development of a “do not track” browser mechanism so consumers can choose whether to allow the collection of data regarding online searching and browsing activities.

The Commerce Department's report outlines a new online privacy framework to increase the protection of consumers' data.

“America needs a robust privacy framework that preserves consumer trust in the evolving internet economy while ensuring the web remains a platform for innovation, jobs and economic growth,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement.

In its report, the Commerce Department urged the development of a privacy Bill of Rights – a set of principles concerning how online companies collect and use personal information for commercial purposes that would serve as the foundation of online consumer data privacy in the United States.

The government should also consider developing certain industry-specific codes of conduct that the FTC would enforce, the Commerce Department recommended. In addition, the report advocates the development of a privacy office within the Department of Commerce to work with the FTC and other federal entities to develop the codes of conduct.

The report additionally recommends synchronizing the many state data breach notification rules to provide clarity to consumers and to streamline industry compliance rules. Also, the government should work with its global trading partners to bridge differences in privacy frameworks, the department recommended. 

The Commerce Department's report has garnered mixed reactions. Nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said the proposal is “inadequate” and relies on the “failed” privacy self-regulation model by calling for voluntary, enforceable codes.

The framework “would perpetuate current failed practices that give companies, not consumers, control of consumer data,” Consumer Watchdog said.

In its report, however, the Commerce Department said it recognized that a solution above and beyond self-regulation is needed.

“Self-regulation without stronger enforcement is not enough,” Locke said in a statement. “Consumers must trust the internet in order for businesses to succeed online.”

But members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a group that represents online advertising companies, praised the report and said it provides “vital support for industry self-regulation.”

“We are gratified by the report's recognition that advertising is a key driver of the global information economy, and the United States continues to be the worldwide leader in this ecosystem,” the IAB said in a statement.

The Commerce Department currently is seeking additional comment from the public.

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