Beyond SOPA: Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights

Following up on the PIPA/SOPA online privacy controversy of January — which effectively quashed egregious congressional proposals on the subject — the Obama administration has unveiled a “consumer privacy bill of rights,” a 62-page framework for protecting consumer data in a networked world.

The White House calls it a blueprint providing “a baseline of clear protections for consumers and greater certainty for companies.” It’s designed to give consumers more control over the manner in which personal information is used on the Internet.

There’s also the matter of trust, something that is ever harder to find, instill and maintain, especially when it comes to dealing with and on the Web, where online sales have ballooned from $20 billion at the turn of the century to nearly $200 billion annually.

As outlined by the White House, the privacy bill of rights includes:

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

There are other elements in the framework, including a stakeholder-driven process to specify how these rights will apply in specific business contexts; strong enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); and “greater interoperability” between the U.S. privacy framework and international partners.

“Never has privacy been more important than today, in the age of the Internet, the World Wide Web and smart phones,” said President Obama in the report’s introduction. “So, it is incumbent on us to do what we have done throughout history: apply our timeless privacy values to the new technologies and circumstances of our times,” he continued.

He called on companies to begin immediately to work with privacy advocates, consumer protection enforcement agencies, and others to implement the principles in “enforceable codes of conduct.”

President Obama said the Administration will work to advance the bill of rights and will work with Congress to enact them. “With this Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, we offer to the world a dynamic model of how to offer strong privacy protection and enable ongoing innovation in new information technologies.”

The debate on this issue will no doubt continue, but at least this raises the bar to a more rational level. In an age when it increasingly seems that nothing is sacred, including our privacy, it’s nice to have a reminder that privacy is, as the president says, not an outmoded or lost value.

[Image credit: Computers, Post Graduate Computer Lab, Emory University by jisc_infonet via Flickr CC]

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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