Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Privacy Legislation on Data Retention "Orwellian"

I can't say I'm shocked, because often what starts as a reasonably good idea transforms into really bad legislation...usually due to the influence of big business donors who might be effected by the new law. I see this ALL THE TIME on legislation we (Consumer Federation of California) work on, because corporate interests do not take kindly to consumer protections...and they'll spend just about anything to ensure these protections are whittled down to almost meaningless regulations.

This appears to be the case with the recently proposed legislation by Rep. Rick Boucher that for the first time would mandate the length of time online consumer information could be kept. Now, in theory, this is a good idea. Why should our private information be stored for so long anyway? Unfortunately, as C-NET reports, the bill falls far short, and is being called Orwellian by privacy advocates.

For one, the bill would require websites to discard data collected from their users after 18 months. That's not exactly re-assuring when the information could be deleted in just days...but then, that might cut into the profits of those wanting to mine, share and sell it. This of course, is why right wing groups think the bill went too far...because remember, corporations are people, just like you and me, and their ability to maximize profit at our expense is "free speech"...rrriiighhhht....

The bill also adopts the opt-out principle, rather than opt-in, in some critical areas...this is a privacy "no - no" and often where the battle lines are drawn on privacy issues related to data sharing in particular. Why should the burden be on the individual when it comes to his/her information? I shouldn't have to go find (often hidden too) where I can opt-out of something I don't want being done in the first place.

C-NET reports:

Liberal special interest groups announced they were "disappointed" that Boucher didn't slap even more regulations on Internet businesses. Free-market think tanks panned it for going too far. And industry groups like the Interactive Advertising Bureau said it was far too broad as currently drafted."This bill is not the answer," said Michelle De Mooy, a senior associate at the pro-regulation group Consumer Action. "We don't think it effectively protects consumer information online."


Any company or nonprofit organization that collects personal information from at least 5,000 people, including names, e-mail addresses, or U.S. mailing addresses, would not be allowed to "use" or "disclose" the data without consent. Providing a "clear statement" about how the information is used would, however, qualify as consent in many cases.

That was enough to irk groups that lobby for more regulations targeting technology companies. So were the sections of the Boucher-Stearns bill that would prevent individuals from filing lawsuits and would preempt stricter state laws.

"We're very disappointed with the legislation, which relies on notice and opt out, which has proven to be so ineffective," said Susan Grant from the Consumer Federation of America. "It carves out a huge loophole for behavioral advertising. It prevents states from enacting and enforcing stronger privacy protection."

Click here for more.

This should be an interesting debate...I'll be watching for whether the time data can be retained is shortened and if consumers are given greater control over how their data is used - namely requiring opt-in, not opt-out.

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