President Obama Unveils "Consumer Privacy Bill Of Rights" For The Internet
The bill has seven main elements regarding personal data aggregation:
• First, the plan seeks to increase individual control over what data is collected.
• It would advocate transparent and comprehendible privacy policies.
• It would require companies to respect the context in which consumers provide data – meaning companies cannot use or disclose data for purposes unrelated to the original context.
• The plan provides security for personal data, ensuring companies create safeguards against loss or risk.
• It enables consumers to access and correct personal data for accuracy. Companies will also limit use of sensitive data that could cause the user harm.
• It names “focused collection” as a right of consumers to "reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain," according to a statement from the White House.
• Lastly, it holds companies accountable for upholding consumer privacy rights.
As of now, the plan still has to pass through Congress before it has any implications online. Even so, President Obama has already nominated members for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
Although the plan does place restrictions on Internet companies’ data aggregation, the administration hopes to “assure continued innovation in the Internet economy by providing flexible implementation mechanisms to ensure privacy rules keep up with ever-changing technologies,” said the White House.
However, this proposal isn’t particularly new or surprising to Alan Friel, an attorney at law and partner in the Intellectual Property Department of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. Friel specializes in regulatory implications between privacy and digital media.
“It’s part of a growing movement by consumer protection groups to say the industry’s not sufficiently self-regulating and that government needs to step in and set the rules of the road for the industry,” Friel said. “There are currently over half a dozen bills pending in Congress that would address consumer data protection.”
Friel explained that the plan does not have a binding effect but rather it expresses the administration’s agenda on consumer data privacy.
“Ultimately, it is going to require Congress to pass legislation or we’re going to end up with a hodge-podge of state regulations which will be likely challenged,” Friel said.
At the same time, the industry has been making progress toward self-regulation. The Digital Advertising Alliance – a coalition of Internet companies – works to notify consumers when they’re being tracked for targeted advertising and to offer ways for them to opt out.
“The big conflict is going to be between whether or not industry can sufficiently regulate itself or if the government thinks it needs to step in and either pass federal legislation or give the Federal Trade Commission additional authority to pass regulations,” Friel said.
While most consumers consider increased privacy protection a good thing, some shy away from increased regulation. Government involvement has gotten a bad name following the protests of censorship implications of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Internet Protocol Act (PIPA). Compared with the European Union, America’s regulatory scheme is far more relaxed but this could soon change.
“In some ways the growing globalization of business may impose a de facto European standard on the United States, at least for global companies," Friel said.
As the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights makes its way through Congress, it could become difficult to strike a compromise between consumers, Internet companies and regulatory bodies. According to Friel, this may be resolved by answering the underlying question:
"The issue really is: To what degree should consumers be given notice [of data collecting] and to what degree should they be given choice?" he said.