Senators Begin Tackling Some Privacy Issues, Government Privacy Practices Pending

April 13, 2011

Senators Kerry and McCain introduced a privacy bill yesterday, that aims to protect consumers without unnecessarily burdening privacy industry. Privacy, trust, and innovation can go hand in hand and the Kerry/McCain bill is a great start to achieving that. Consumer privacy, however, is not the last word, and Congress must also act to strike a balance in government surveillance that reflects modern conceptions of privacy online.

One of the most important features of the bill is that it was developed from the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs). Many companies already use the FIPPs internally, and will be familiar with the basics of the Kerry/McCain bill, should it become law. They are also rigorous enough to protect information about consumers, while remaining flexible in implementation.

We are also happy to see that the bill gives industry self-regulation a large part to play in protecting information. Companies often know themselves how they can best go about protecting privacy within the context of their own business models, and allowing those companies to develop codes of conduct that are specifically adapted to an industry leads to more innovation in privacy practices, better tuned rules, and, at the end of the day, better privacy protections.

The bill is still at the very start of what will surely be a long process, however. Even small changes throughout the Congressional process can tip what is a very careful balance. We will be watching closely to see how the bill evolves now that it has been introduced.

Finally, it is important to note that consumer privacy does not exist in a vacuum. While we call for protection of people’s information from use by companies, we must also be protecting that privacy against government overreach. Senators Kerry and McCain would greatly impress us if, along with this consumer privacy bill, they supported privacy enhancing revisions to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (see the work of the Digital Due Process Coalition, of which CCIA is a member) They would be even greater champions of privacy if they opposed innovation-crushing amendments to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act proposed by the administration. Threats to privacy do not live within corporations alone. For the sake of consumers and the economy that thrives on Internet businesses and innovation, Congress should tackle the entire privacy problem — not just one subset.

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