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Obama unveils Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

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The White House today unveiled a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” intended to serve as a guideline for new legislation to protect people’s online privacy. The Privacy Bill of Rights outlines what types of information Internet companies may collect, how that information may be used, ways for users to easily access their private data, and correct any errors in the information.

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” said President Obama in a statement. “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That’s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important.  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.”

The rights outlined in the measure are outlined by the White House as such:

  • 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.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights serves as one of four key elements to the total “blueprint.” The other parts include: enforcement of these rights by the Federal Trade Commission; a “stakeholder-driven process” to define how these rights will apply to specific businesses; and a plan for coordinating the framework of these rights with those of international partners.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will in the coming weeks meet with a number of parties that will be affected by the establishment of these rights, including business, privacy and consumer rights advocacy groups, technical experts, international partners, and academics. During these meetings the Commerce Department will “establish specific practices or codes of conduct” that will allow for the implementation of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

In addition, the White House announced that Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo — which together deliver more than 90 percent of all behavioral advertising on the Web — have agreed to support the use of Do Not Track technology in most major Web browsers. Do Not Track allows users to block companies from tracking where they move around the Internet, and is strongly supported by digital rights advocacy groups, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

While the Obama administration has been working on the development of the Privacy Bill of Rights over the past two years, its unveiling could not have come at a more appropriate time. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen: Google come under fire for bypassing the privacy settings in both Safari and Internet Explorer browsers, as well as a heated debate over its new, unified privacy policy; Path, Hipster, and a wide range of other mobile apps access and upload users’ contact lists without permission; and, of course, Facebook once again scrutinized for its new Open Graph platform, which allows for “frictionless sharing” of user data and activities on the Web.

In other words, this move is well past due.

To read more about the White House’s full plan, click here: pdf.

[Image via White House/Flickr]