Big Week in Washington for Online Privacy Issues

Events unfolding leading up to Data Privacy Day

This week, which leads up to Data Privacy Day on Saturday, could be a big one for advancing online privacy policy in Washington, D.C., and globally.

In keeping with the push to protect consumers' personal data and privacy online, the Obama administration is expected to release its white paper on privacy, endorsing a "privacy bill of rights" and calling on companies to self-regulate by adopting codes of conduct.

On the other side of the pond, the European Commission on Wednesday will propose big changes to its 17-year-old European privacy policy directive, adopting regulation that by 2014 could require companies like Google and Facebook to obtain explicit consent from consumers before collecting and using their personal data.

Both events will cause companies to re-examine privacy polices and "look around the corner to anticipate future privacy policy," said Christopher Wolf, a partner with Hogan Lovells and the co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, in a press briefing Tuesday with reporters.

"A lot can happen, even though it's unlikely no new legislation will be passed in Congress this year," said Wolf. But he noted, "They can serve as a 'bully pulpit.'"

Last year's Federal Trade Commission preliminary report on privacy in which the agency explored the concept of "Do Not Track" policies was a case in point. Since then, every browser added personal tracking tools, and the advertising community accelerated the roll out of its privacy icon for online behavioral targeted advertising. (Advertisers recently launched an advertising campaign to educate online users about the self-regulatory program.)

The FTC also stepped up its enforcement actions last year, announcing major consent decrees with Google, Facebook and Twitter that required the companies to put in place comprehensive privacy programs. "They've been a very active cop on the beat, and we'll see that continue," said Tim Tobin, a partner with Hogan Lovells. "We also expect them to become more active in mobile."