Need balance in White House privacy law process

Consumer groups fear deep-pocketed industry could dominate process

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Consumer Watchdog | Center for Digital Democracy | Consumer Federation of America | Consumer Action | U.S. PIRG | World Privacy Forum

WASHINGTON - A "multi-stakeholder process" to develop online privacy codes advocated today by the Obama Administration runs the risk of being dominated by industry and failing to protect consumers if it is not organized in a fair and balanced manner, six public interest groups warned.

The groups include Consumer Watchdog, The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, U.S. PIRG and the World Privacy Forum.

The groups also said that any meaningful privacy legislation should direct the Federal Trade Commission to create and enforce a “Do Not Track” mechanism.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee today, Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling called for baseline privacy legislation on behalf of the Administration.  He said it should be based on Fair Information Practices (FIPs) and provide a sort of bill of privacy rights.  He said the specific rules should be developed through a process that includes stakeholders from the commercial, consumer advocacy and academic sectors, rather than a usual regulatory process.

Noting that industry has the resources to completely overwhelm consumers in this process, the groups said that the involvement of a multi-stakeholder process should inform, not replace, rulemaking.

If the Department of Commerce initiates a "multi-stakeholder process" to develop detailed privacy guidelines, the groups said that it should be fashioned along the lines suggested by the World Privacy Forum in its comments on the agency's green paper last December:

  1. Consumer and business representation be equal in any multi-stakeholder process.
  2. Approval of consumer representatives must be a necessary element in any normal decisions, just as the approval of business will be necessary.
  3. Consumers must select their own representatives through a process yet to be determined, and consumer representatives may not be designated or limited by business or government.
  4. Consumer organizations that require financial assistance to participate in the multi-stakeholder process should receive support for travel and other expenses (but not for staff support).
  5. Government agencies may participate in the process, but no agency may have a vote.
  6. Participants in the process must chose their own rules and presiding officer.
  7. Certifiers of accountability with codes of conduct should be not-for-profit organizations that are wholly independent of business, consumers, and government.

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Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Consumer Action focuses on financial education that empowers low to moderate income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.




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