Government Dept. Recommends ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’

The Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force is recommending a Privacy Bill of Rights for online consumers, just one of several recommendations outlined in an 88-page green paper released Thursday (Dec. 16).

Regulators are grappling with how to ensure online privacy for consumers as Internet companies become increasingly sophisticated about tracking Web activity. The department’s report echoed many of the same concerns and suggestions outlined in the Federal Trade Commission’s report issued two weeks ago.

“Self-regulation without stronger enforcement is not enough. Consumers must trust the Internet in order for businesses to succeed online,” said commerce secretary Gary Locke, who created the Internet Policy Task Force last April. “Today’s report is a road map for considering a new framework that is good for consumers and businesses.”

The Commerce Department report does not commit to specific policy proposals, but does suggest there is a need to ensure transparency and informed consent through establishing a commercial data privacy framework to protect consumers.

As part of the framework, the Commerce Department is also recommending working with industry, consumer groups, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop an enforceable privacy code of conduct, as well as a Privacy Policy Office in the Department of Commerce. The Federal Trade Commission would be the lead enforcer of privacy policy.

Also of concern to the Commerce Department is the impact of privacy laws on global competition. The report recommended the U.S. work with its trading partners to find ways to bridge the differences between privacy policies.

Expect more online privacy legislation to hit the halls of Congress in the new year. “As pointed out in the report, the United States only has privacy laws in limited areas such as the healthcare and financial sectors. This means that there are no baseline privacy protections for most consumer online activity. Industry self-regulation has largely failed, and I hope that the Department of Commerce in its final report will reach the conclusion that legislation is necessary to protect consumers,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Comments on the Commerce Department’s privacy report are due Jan. 28, 2011