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White House Urges Discussion of New Privacy Legislation That's DOA

It’s hard to find anyone who’s particularly jazzed about the latest draft of the bill.


White House officials released draft privacy legislation Friday afternoon designed to improve protections for consumers, but it didn’t take long for parties on all sides of the debate to start dumping all over it.

President Obama promised to release a new draft proposal for Privacy Bill of Rights legislation during his State of the Union speech. The language released Friday updated a proposed consumer Bill of Rights the White House released three years ago. The revised plan would make it easier for consumers to see and correct the personal data companies are collecting about them.

Main principles in new White House consumer privacy Bill of Rights proposal
Main principles in new White House consumer privacy Bill of Rights proposal

The draft is intended to advance the process of “bringing all parties to the table to further discuss how we effectively apply privacy protections in the digital age,” said Lawrence Strickling, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communications and information, in a statement.

But like the White House’s last effort three years ago, the newly revised plan that’s intended to bridge the gap between privacy advocates and businesses appears so far to have fallen short.

Administration officials emphasized the draft is intended to spark discussion, which it certainly did Friday afternoon, as privacy and business groups rushed to shoot out press releases about parts of the bill they didn’t like.

Privacy advocates grumbled that the legislation wouldn’t really do much for consumers and would preempt some stronger state laws, while companies are complaining that legislation would go too far in limiting their ability to use information and would increase compliance burdens.

As Microsoft diplomatically noted in a blog post, “Not all will agree with every aspect of the proposal — some will say it goes too far, while others will say it doesn’t go far enough — but it’s a good place to start the conversation.”

Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts really has no need to be diplomatic; he said Friday that the proposal “falls far short” of the mark and that he was “especially concerned that companies and data brokers could be able to deny consumers the right to say no to selling their sensitive information for marketing purposes.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology said the legislation “has too many loopholes and doesn’t provide for meaningful enforcement.”

Meanwhile tech industry groups also have some concerns with the legislation, but more with the issue that it might restrict the ability of companies to use consumer data.

Tech CEO group TechNet said there’s no need to “hamper innovation with overly prescriptive or burdensome rules,” while the Consumer Electronics Association said the proposal “could hurt American innovation and choke off potentially useful services and products.”

Meanwhile, the Internet Association, which represents Google, Facebook and other Internet companies, said, “It is essential that any privacy rules are finely tailored to address specific harms, so that innovation, which benefits consumers and the economy, can continue to flourish. Today’s wide-ranging legislative proposal outlined by the Commerce Department casts a needlessly imprecise net.”

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