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White House pushes for online privacy rights

Published: February 24, 2012 | 11:25 am
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The White House on Wednesday unveiled a strongly worded Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights as the linchpin for a drive to get Congress to pass new laws protecting consumers’ privacy as they surf the Internet.

The announcement came as Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler and attorneys general from 35 other states sent a letter to Google complaining about a new privacy policy that will give the search giant greater latitude to track people using computers and mobile devices.
One of the seven privacy rights, unveiled at a press conference by Commerce Secretary John Bryson, guarantees consumers the “right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.”

The Commerce Department will now commence a series of meetings inviting privacy advocates, consumer groups and key players in the tech and online advertising industries to hash out “enforceable privacy policies,” Bryson said.
In a statement, President Obama said, “American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online. As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy.”
Meanwhile, the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry trade group, announced it has begun work on a more visible and effective do-not-track mechanism to add to a self-policing system in effect for all of the consortium’s members.
The Federal Trade Commission separately has backed a call for a do-not-track system buttressed by new federal laws.
Daniel Weitzner, the White House deputy chief technical officer, said the Obama administration’s goal is to get Congress to draft and pass new privacy laws using the privacy bill of rights as a framework.
“We now have a much more focused blueprint,” Weitzner said. “We’ll use our bully pulpit to get legislation passed based on these principles.”
The push comes as Google, Facebook and Apple have come under fire from some members of Congress and the FTC for tracking consumers’ activity on the Internet, often without asking permission.
Google’s new privacy policy is scheduled to go into effect March 1. Google says it offers users choice and control over their information through its privacy tools.
The Obama administration recognizes that “we need to make meaningful changes to preserve consumer trust and confidence,” says Craig Spiezle, founder and executive director of the non-profit Online Trust Alliance.
“At the same time,” Spiezle says, “we need to preserve innovation. Balancing the two is a challenge.”


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