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Privacy & Data

Momentum Builds as Obama Administration Urges Congress to Enact Privacy Legislation

Yesterday the Obama Administration announced its support for baseline consumer privacy legislation. This is the first time in history that the White House has called for a baseline consumer privacy bill. In a Senate hearing entitled The State of Online Consumer Privacy, Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling acknowledged that the United States’ current patchwork of data privacy laws is insufficient and called for "[a]n overarching set of privacy principles on which consumers and businesses can rely could create a stronger foundation for consumer trust in the Internet." Accordingly, he said, "The Administration urges Congress to enact a ‘consumer privacy bill of rights’ to provide baseline consumer data privacy protections."

The Administration’s support is good news. It is the latest voice in a growing chorus of support for modern privacy protections online. Today’s hearing comes in the wake of a flurry of activity: dual privacy reports from the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, a vigorous discussion focused on "Do Not Track" policies and tools, and a number of congressional bills. Most recently, Senators John McCain and John Kerry have been circulating draft privacy legislation—a sign of bipartisan progress—and garnering industry support.

The Commerce Department recommended today a comprehensive framework to implement the Fair Information Practice Principles (pdf), a collection of agreed-upon principles for the handling of consumer information. With these broad principles as a baseline, the FTC, industry, and consumer groups could work together to build binding codes of conduct that are appropriate and adaptable. This is a strong, flexible methodology that will permit data privacy protections to stay current without repeated Congressional intervention.

The momentum for privacy legislation continues to build. The Administration's vision for a comprehensive consumer privacy bill echoes CDT’s advocacy of more than a decade. As businesses increasingly recognize that the U.S. needs a privacy protection framework to enable U.S. companies to compete in the world data economy, we are enthusiastic that baseline privacy law is closer to becoming a reality for consumers.