Volume of the Obama Administration on Privacy

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Our friend Saul Hansell at the New York Times has a piece today entitled “The Obama Administration’s Silence on Privacy, ” which references a speech given yesterday at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference.  The speech was made by Susan Crawford, a science and technology advisor to President Obama.  While we are often in synch with Saul’s take on things, we disagree that the Obama Administration has been “silent” on privacy issues. We were at the same conference where Crawford spoke, and her explanation of the President’s cybersecurity plan had a great deal to do with privacy. There is no privacy without data security, which is well-recognized in the new cybersecurity plan, which Crawford discussed and was laid out by President Obama last week.  In fact, just days ago FPF applauded the inclusion of an official who will be focused exclusively on privacy issues within that plan.  Furthermore, the HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA, which were part of the Obama Administration stimulus plan that passed in February, contain significant new privacy rules for health data.  Agency staff are also working on a re-write of the out dated OMB Cookie Policy, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy is innovatively collecting public input on how to handle privacy, among other issues, in carrying out the Open Government Initiative. A top notch CPO is already in place at the Department of Homeland Security and has started examining how to use Web 2.0 in a privacy sensitive manner.  So, it is not fair to say the Obama Administration has been “silent” on privacy. 

 Of course, we do have very high hopes for the Administration’s privacy and technology agenda and are eager to see much more happening. We think there is a pressing need for a overall Chief Privacy Officer . The Privacy Act needs updating, the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties needs appointees and so much more.  But given the competing crisis of the financial system overhaul, the restructuring of the auto industry, plans for the health system and problems with Afghanistan and Iran, we are impressed with the amount of mindshare is getting and the amount of progress being made.