February 23, 2012 | By Marcia Hofmann

Obama Administration Unveils Promising Consumer Privacy Plan, but the Devil Will Be in the Details

Today the White House proposed a framework for protecting privacy in the digital age. The plan, laid out in detail in a white paper (pdf), includes a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights based on well-established fair information practice principles. EFF, which has previously proposed a Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users, believes this user-centered approach to privacy protection is a solid one.

The Administration's bill of rights guarantees:

  • Individual Control. Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect and how they use it.
  • Transparency. Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context. Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security. Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy. Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection. Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability. Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

The Administration vowed to push toward enacting these foundational principles into law, and encouraged Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission the sign-off to enforce them. The Department of Commerce will also bring together companies, consumer groups, and other stakeholders to develop legally enforceable codes of conduct for particular markets.

Finally, the Administration's framework will encourage global data protection by promoting mutual recognition of nations' privacy frameworks and cooperative enforcement among countries.

EFF applauds the principles underlying the White House proposal and believes it reflects an important commitment to safeguard users' data in the networked world without stifling innovation. Only time will tell whether the proposal will be implemented in a way that effectively protects user privacy, and that's where the rubber meets the road. We'll have more to say about that in the coming days.


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