Earlier today, the Associated Press obtained a draft bill drawn up by the White House to provide stronger privacy protections online. If you thought this might be about reining in the NSA or something like that, you would be mistaken. President Obama has no intention of restraining the massive privacy violations being committed by his own administration, but he will propose new rules for how private companies can collect, store, and use their customers’ private data.
The bill has been criticized by privacy advocates, Democrats in Congress, and even the FTC for being too weak. The bill would encourage companies in the tech industry to draft their own code for handling privacy, and it would give the FTC power to take action against any company violating that code. The bill gives the FTC no rulemaking power, it can only enforce the rules created by the industry itself. For this reason it was criticized by the head of the Center for Digital Democracy, Jeffrey Chester, who stated, “It’s a big victory for the tech industry because it really sidelines the FTC and removes it as an effective force.”
The bill also contains many loopholes to let businesses get avoid consequences, for example startups are completely protected from any punishments for violating the this law for the first 18 months they are in operation. This law would also preempt state laws on privacy, which in many cases are stronger than this bill, and would actually set privacy protections back further than they are now, in some places.
The bill has also been criticized by some within in the tech industry as being too heavy-handed. The Internet Association, which represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies, has criticized the bill for casting too wide a net, and worries that it will stifle innovation. Since almost nobody is actually satisfied with the bill, it is unlikely to be passed by Congress with serious revisions.
Do you think this bill is a positive step for internet privacy? Is there a better way the government could be handling the issue? Leave your comment below.