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Commerce Also Issues Report on Privacy

Shortly after the FTC released its report on privacy, the Department of Commerce (DOC) followed suit, releasing a Green Paper entitled: “Privacy and Information Innovation: A Dynamic Privacy Framework for the Internet Age.”  Authored by the DOC Internet Policy Task Force – a joint effort of the Office of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the International Trade Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology – the Paper argues that preserving consumer privacy online, and thereby bolstering consumer trust in the Internet, is essential for businesses to succeed online.  

Citing a “compelling need to provide additional guidance to businesses, to establish a baseline privacy framework to afford protection for consumers, and to clarify the U.S. approach to privacy to our trading partners – all without compromising the current framework’s ability to accommodate new technologies,” the Paper proposes a framework built on four broad categories:

•    Enhanced consumer trust online through revitalized Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs);
•    Development of voluntary, enforceable privacy codes of conduct in specific industries through the collaborative effort of multi-stakeholder groups, the FTC, and a newly proposed Privacy Policy Office;
•    Enhanced global interoperability; and
•    Nationally consistent security breach notification rules.

In Commerce’s view, Fair Information Practice Principles would respond to consumer concerns about the uses of personal data and fill the gaps in current data privacy protections.  The Paper references other privacy frameworks where FIPPs have been successful, and notes that the FTC called for adoption of many of the same principles.  DOC suggests that enhanced transparency, not typically found in today’s privacy policies, will help better inform choices.  In particular, DOC believes clear notice of the specific purpose for which data is being collected will help align consumers’ expectations with the use of their data.   

Addressing voluntary, enforceable, FTC approved codes of conduct, DOC envisions a newly created Privacy Policy Office working in conjunction with the FTC to encourage industry to develop voluntary codes of conduct.  The paper balances an increased level of FTC enforcement with the possibility of safe harbors for companies that commit and adhere to appropriate codes of conduct.   

Put forth to stimulate public discussion, the Green Paper does not expressly commit to specific policy proposals; rather it holds open the possibility of greater specifics in a future white paper.  Comments on the Green Paper are due January 28th.