We Can’t Wait: Advice for Collaborative Progress on Privacy
The Administration isn't waiting for a new law to make progress on privacy. A baseline consumer privacy law is needed more than ever (and the Administration has called for one), but as the White House wrote in its Privacy Bill of Rights press release: "We Can't Wait."
In the meantime, the Department of Commerce is launching a collaborative process to improve how companies handle personal data. It plans to gather a group of interested parties—including companies, consumer advocates, technical experts, international partners, and academics—to solve a subset of the many privacy issues we face today. The goal of this so-called multistakeholder process is to produce “codes of conduct” that industry can choose to publicly adopt. After companies commit, they can be held accountable by the FTC. In exchange for cooperation, companies get clear rules—which they had a hand in defining—and an opportunity to maintain consumers' trust.
To succeed, it is essential that companies come to the table ready to negotiate in good faith. With the current lack of applicable legislation and the insufficiency of self-regulation, this is one of the best opportunities we have to provide businesses with privacy guidance and consumers with privacy assurances.
Yesterday CDT submitted comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agency responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues, and running this process. We made the following recommendations.
Pick Manageable Privacy Issues
We urged the NTIA begin by addressing privacy issues that are manageable—particularly those that involve a limited number of companies. As the process is getting off the ground, success will be easier if fewer companies need to be involved.
Specifically, we recommended the NTIA address the retention of sensitive information (such as search history and location data) by large platforms, the use of mobile monitoring software, the development of transparency and controls on mobile devices, and emerging issues like facial recognition.
We also stressed the importance of being inclusive, reemphasizing that the process be open to a broad set of participants. We highlighted the fact that many groups have limited financial resources and recommended ways to ease this burden – for example, we suggested meetings be held in central locations and unneeded paperwork be minimized. To ensure all interested parties have an opportunity to weigh in, we also asked for draft codes of conduct be opened to the public for feedback.
It would be to everyone's benefit for this process to be a success. The Internet has thrived under similar collaborative efforts in the past. This is an opportunity to demonstrate this approach still works.