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Giving the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Some Teeth

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is a step in the right direction, but a voluntary program won't work in the long run.

President Obama unveiled a blueprint for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The initiative is long overdue, and has been received favorably, but protecting consumer privacy may take more than a framework of principles for companies to voluntarily follow.

In a statement from the White House, President Obama said, “American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” adding, “For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth.”

Privacy seems to be at the heart of some major controversy every other week. Just in the past few weeks there have been incidents with some iOS apps surreptitiously tapping private data on iPhones or iPads, and Google has been accused of intentionally circumventing privacy controls in the iOS Safari Web browser, and within Internet Explorer to track users’ behavior.

Tim ‘TK’ Keanini, CTO of nCircle, proclaimed, “It’s about time--this initiative is just one tiny step but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Keanini stated that it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the companies we trust and choose to do business with allow us some voice in determining how our personal information is handled. Such sly gathering of metadata without a user’s knowledge may have been OK five years ago, but that is clearly no longer the case and companies need to stop abusing consumer trust.

The Business Software Alliance cautiously embraced the Obama initiative. BSA President and CEO Robert Holleyman said in a statement, “I welcome the call for voluntary codes of conduct that are developed with stakeholder input and based on globally accepted principles.”

Holleyman praised the fact that the White House blueprint is flexible enough to meet the needs of consumer privacy while still encouraging innovation and growth, and pledged to cooperate. “We look forward to actively engaging in the stakeholder process that will put these privacy principles into practice, and we believe the Administration’s balanced approach provides a sound basis for Congressional work on privacy.”

It just so happens that there is already bipartisan work being done in Congress by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass) and John McCain (R-Ariz). And, ultimately it is that effort which will hopefully take the Obama Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and give it some teeth that make it more “compelling” for organizations reluctant to voluntarily stick to the rules.

Senator Kerry issued a statement commending Obama’s blueprint, but also expressing a belief that a voluntary framework is simply not enough. Kerry feels that the voluntary effort is a nice gesture, but voluntary compliance is not a replacement for an actual law

Senator Kerry summed up with, “Since the 1990’s, Congress has been talking about this issue and complaining about abuses but doing little to stop them. Instead of continuing the now monthly exercise of publicly scolding companies, we need to make Congress establish common sense rules of the road that protect consumers.”

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