Thursday, July 15, 2010

Public Interest Groups Urge FTC to Create Comprehensive Privacy Plan

This posting was written by John W. Arden.

Seventeen public interest and privacy groups sent a letter yesterday to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, urging the FTC to “draft a comprehensive plan that both details the deficiencies in Americans’ privacy rights, and proposes comprehensive statutory and regulatory solutions to those problems.”

The letter asserted that U.S. privacy law was “in a state of disarray,” that existing laws “don’t adequately address new business practices,” and that entire industries have sprung up “with little or no regulation.”

“Under the guise of `self regulation,’ companies routinely revise privacy policies so that they can do essentially whatever they wish with the data they collect,” the letter stated. “Meanwhile, public support for stronger privacy safeguards is growing as consumer protests continue to mount.”

Opportunity to Act

After hosting a series of roundtable discussions on privacy challenges posed by technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data, the FTC is well positioned to issue a “wide-ranging report” addressing problems of online and offline data collection, the groups observed. The agency was urge to “seize this opportunity.”

The groups recommended that the Commission take the following steps:

 Propose a comprehensive privacy law that would provide consumers with safeguards and control over their personal information;

 Set out regulations for the collection of information by the online advertising industry to help ensure that consumers have meaningful control over their personal information;

 Identify specific new business practices that raise possible privacy concerns and propose solutions; and

 Improve the agency’s transparency so the public can understand the significance and effectiveness of an enforcement action.

Need for Comprehensive Regulation

The letter pointed out that current U.S. privacy law is piecemeal, protecting personal information in one area, while leaving it uncovered in another context.

“We believe a comprehensive overview of the problems and a discussion of the potential solutions—similar to the recent Federal Communications Broadband Plan—is the best way to begin to address these systemic problems.”

The letter was signed by 17 groups, including the ACLU, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen, US PIRG, and the World Privacy Forum.

Text of the letter appears here on the Center for Digital Democracy’s web site.

No comments: