White House Enters Online Privacy Fray with Privacy Subcommittee

By Katie Kindelan Comment

First it was Twitter, then widgets, then Android and the iPhone, Facebook apps, and now Firesheep. Against the drumbeat of almost daily reports of new online privacy breaches, the federal government has done what it does best to tackle a policy issue: create a committee.

The Obama administration announced in a weekend blog post on the National Science and Technology Council website that it has formed a subcommittee to advise the White House on regulatory and legislative issues for the Web.

The subcommittee will focus primarily on Internet privacy and how to best balance the privacy rights of Internet users with the Web’s role as an economic engine.

“In this digital age, a thriving and dynamic economy requires Internet policies that promote innovation domestically and globally while ensuring strong and sensible protections of individuals’ private information and the ability of governments to meet their obligations to protect public safety,” Kerry and Schroeder wrote in the NSTC blog post.

The subcommittee will consist of representatives from various federal agencies such as the Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security and State departments. Cameron Kerry, general counsel at the Commerce Department, and Christopher Schroeder, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, will lead the group’s efforts.

Cameron Kerry, notably, is the brother of longtime online privacy advocate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) who, we’ve reported, has pledged to introduce legislation on the issue this year.

News of the subcommittee comes as the public expects government to act.

Nearly 60 percent of the public expects Congress to hold a hearing on online privacy before the upcoming November 2 midterm elections, according to a new poll by Predicto Mobile.

With the election less than two weeks away, that’s an expectation not likely to be met. More realistic is Congress acting on the two bills currently pending in the House and Sen. Kerry’s anticipated legislation once the new Congress is installed in January.