Commerce Department Calls for Privacy Enforcement

December 22, 2010
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The Commerce Department released a proposal on Dec. 16 calling for the development of a privacy office within the agency and for enforceable codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers that track Internet user data.

The Commerce Department released a proposal on Dec. 16 calling for the development of a privacy office within the agency and for enforceable codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers that track Internet user data.

The Commerce Department’s Privacy Policy Office would help in enforcing the codes of conduct.  The report says commercial privacy policy “must be able to evolve rapidly to meet a continuing stream of innovations.  A helpful step would be to enlist the expertise and knowledge of the private sector, and to consult existing best practices, in order to create voluntary codes of conduct that promote informed consent and safeguard personal information.”  The report wants to “…streamline industry compliance, and allow businesses to develop a strong, nationwide data management strategy.”

The report did not endorse or criticize the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Track” report issued earlier this month.  Instead, it seeks further comment on how the agency can “best encourage discussion and development of technologies such as “Do Not Track.” The Commerce Department also wants comments on how the privacy principles should be enforced, whether the FTC should be given authority to issue more detailed rules and whether privacy legislation should include the right for consumers to sue over privacy breaches.

The report also calls for improved international cooperation on privacy.  It says, “The process of trying to comply with the different privacy regimes around the world can be time consuming and costly for U.S. businesses.”

It is great to see government agencies acknowledging the need for an Internet privacy leader that can evolve and enforce privacy policies.  As more social networks allow for more connectedness however, we can only hope the FTC’s and Commerce Department’s plans are not too little too late.