Big Brother Blindfolded at Last? USA moves to create a bill of rights aimed at consumer data privacy
In light of recent breaches into consumer privacy (as noted in this blog), the US Government last Friday (24.02.2012) issued a blueprint for legislation: “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy”, designed to give consumers greater protections and increase certainty as to what constitutes a breach of privacy. The legislation intends to give consumers more control as to what personal data is collected, how it is used, and to whom it is disclosed, and to increase the liability of companies to ensure safety and security for their users’ data. The proposed legislation deals with issues such as the security and responsible handling of personal data.
The difficulty arises in ensuring that companies whose businesses are heavily dependent on the collection and manipulation of personal information do not throw their weight around and interfere too heavily with the creation of such legislation. This concern is paired with fears that data abuse will go largely untracked and unpunished. However, in accordance with a US Federal Trade Commission proposal, Mozilla has this year created a “Do-Not-Track” function through which browsers could prevent web pages from tracking their online behaviour for advertising purposes, giving online users the same choice exercisable by putting your name on a “Don’t Call Me” register for telemarketing. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL (which collectively account for about 90% of all behaviourally targeted online ads) have committed to using “Do-Not-Track” settings on their browsers at the option of the user. Google has implemented a similar “Keep My Opt Outs” function, allowing users to opt out of personalised ads.
President Obama stated on Friday that “[a]s the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy” and given that online retail sales in the USA have reached approximately US$200 billion it’s obvious that it constitutes an enormous market that keeps growing, which compounds the need for stringent consumer protection.
Over the coming weeks, companies, privacy and consumer advocates, politicians, law enforcement representatives, and academics will convene to discuss the blueprint and develop enforceable privacy policies based on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Washington Blueprint claims that “[n]ever has privacy been more important than today, in the age of the Internet, the World Wide Web and smart phones”, and while this could initially be seen as standard political hyperbole, perhaps there is more than a grain of truth in the statement – never before has so much information pertaining to our personal lives been documented in the one place – the amorphous ‘web’ – details as mundane as who we talk to and when, to our banking details, our family photos, our schedules, and everything else in between.
Credit card scams are only the beginning as identity theft becomes a real threat. In 2005, the Australian Senate Committee released a report called “The Real Big Brother: Inquiry into the Privacy Act 1988” which asserted that “the Privacy Act is simply not keeping pace with the challenges of emerging technologies in this electronic age”. Considering that finding was made in 2005, it is slightly concerning that now, in 2012, there has still been little movement in Australian law to tackle online privacy issues.
(The assistance of Alexandra Nash in authoring this blog is acknowledged).
Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice on their own particular circumstances. Alan Arnott is a technology & telecommunications lawyer with qualifications in computer science and law with Arnotts Lawyers Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney. For more information, please visit www.arnotts.net.au.
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