The U.S. Commerce Department has released a report on privacy and the Internet that leans heavily on transparency but treads lightly on new regulation.
Commerce Department report calls for expanded online privacy protections
In a cover letter that is part of the 88-page report, Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke observes that "the Internet is becoming the central nervous system of our information economy and society."
But the technologies prompt new concerns because they "allow the collection and use of personal information in ways that, at times, can be contrary to many consumers' privacy expectations," Locke said.
The report is the work of the department's Internet Policy Task Force that Locke appointed in April. Its key recommendation is that the federal government enunciate "certain core privacy principles" to set a baseline of consumer protections and then convene members of government and other stakeholders to "address specific privacy issues as they arise," Locke said.
Locke recommends, however, "reinvigorating the commitment to providing consumers with effective transparency into data practices."
According to the report, "Our laws and policies, backed by strong enforcement, provide effective commercial data privacy protections." It continues, "The companies that run the digital economy have also shown a willingness to develop and abide by their own best practices." The report acknowledges, however, that in some situations, "more than self-regulation is needed."
The report calls for the "consideration of the broad adoption of Fair Information Practice Principles," a seminal set of five core guidelines first laid out by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now HHS, in 1973 and since adopted globally as fundamental data privacy rights. They are: notice and awareness by the individual of who is collecting information about them and what is being collected; choice about who gets to see your information and the requirement that consent be obtained for its secondary use; an individual's ability to access the data gathered about them and to correct any errors; that the data be accurate and secure, and that the consumer has a right to enforce the policies.
But the Commerce Department stops short of adopting Fair Information Practice Principles, saying rather that adherence may be obtained through "multistakeholder efforts to produce voluntary enforceable codes of conduct."
HHS and the Federal Trade Commission have wrestled with privacy policies in recent months. The FTC earlier this month uncorked a 122-page draft of its policy recommendations for online privacy, while a lawyer for the Office for Civil Rights said this week that HHS will update its privacy rules for health information technology sometime next year.
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