Tuesday, September 15, 2009

EPIC Grades Obama on Privacy

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) released their Privacy Report Card for President Obama last week, and as one would expect, his scores are less than stellar. Granted, he out performs the Bush Administration, but then, if that's the bar we're going to use we're all in deep, deep trouble.

Unfortunately, the Administration was given an incomplete grade on the issue of Consumer Privacy, an area that is especially of interest to the Consumer Federation of California.

As I have written about on this blog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gone through some enormous positive changes under President Obama, and appears committed to better protecting Internet users from behavioral targeting and ads as well as other invasive industry practices. What remains to be seen is who will be the two final appointments to the FTC board (the new head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC and FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz both excellent first steps) and how hard will the President push for reform?

As EPIC's report states:

The Obama Administration can protect consumer privacy by supporting new laws, by safeguarding the personal information held by the federal government, and by strengthening the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the chief agency responsible for protecting U.S. consumers. The FTC assures that free annual credit reports are available to consumers, manages the Do Not Call telephone registry, investigates monopolies, combats identity theft, prevents deceptive practices by businesses, and protects consumer privacy rights. At this time, the Obama Administration has introduced no new consumer privacy legislation and has left two of the five FTC Commissioner slots unfilled. Proposals are also moving forward that would make government information available to the private sector for advertising and marketing.

Other highlights from the report include:

On Cybersecurity: B "The President's commitment to safeguard privacy and network communications in the difficult area of cybersecurity is commendable. But a battle looms over efforts by Congress to extend the government's control of the Internet. The President should have named a point person on cybersecurity to represent his views in that coming debate."

On Civil liberties: C+ "The Obama Administration inherited many troubling programs from the Bush Administration: the Patriot Act, Fusion Centers, No Fly Lists, E_Verify, and REAL ID. So far, there appears to be little change with the new Administration. There is a modified version of REAL ID called "PASS ID." The Patriot Act is still law. No Fly Lists and Fusion Centers are being expanded." The organization did note progress in some areas, "as well as open government and judicial appointments."

On Medical Privacy: A- "EPIC gives the Administration full credit for creating important privacy safeguards as part of the network for electronic health records. The privacy language in the HI‐TECH Act makes the bill one of the best privacy laws in years. Still, implementation of privacy safeguards remains a key challenge."

I would add one more disappointment to the list given under "civil liberties": wiretapping. Not only did the President flip flop on the issue before being elected, he has refused to hold anyone accountable for the crimes committed by the Bush Administration or the telecommunication companies that abetted those crimes. In addition, every expert I have read or spoken with has argued that the current law remains completely inadequate in terms of protecting the privacy of American citizens and restraining the growing authority of the Executive Branch.

All in all, its a rather dismal record all things considered. While again, an improvement over Bush, I think its safe to say that the President's record falls short of his promises as a candidate.

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