It was very disappointing to read today’s NYTimes story which raised the idea that the Department of Commerce was focusing on privacy in order to somehow head off the FTC’s upcoming report on a privacy framework. We at FPF and many others have been urging the Administration to step into the privacy efforts in the private sector and internationally and to provide leadership in advancing a serious data protection agenda. We issued a privacy agenda for the White House in its first days and we have provided detailed measures that would advance consumer privacy protections. We are very optimistic that some of these ideas will show up in the soon-to-be-released Department of Commerce ‘green paper’ on privacy. At the OECD meeting on privacy in Jerusalem, we were thrilled to hear Assistant Secretary Strickland announce support for our idea of a new position of a central appointed US leader to advance privacy at home and abroad.
For years, the US has had a minimal voice in the international privacy debates that have been raging. The FTC is present at international meetings to discuss their agenda and important enforcement activity, but as an independent agency, they do not speak for the Administration. The Department of Homeland Security is active, but the only on the topic of national security concerns. It was therefore very encouraging to see Administration leaders like Cameron Kerry, Larry Strickling and Danny Weitzner taking active roles at the recent OECD and Data Commissioner Conferences in Jerusalem.
We understand the knee jerk assumption that the Department of Commerce is supposed to support ‘commerce.’ But anyone with perspective should recognize that US business interests around the world and free flows of data that are needed for commerce will not advance unless the US shows that it is serious about privacy. We think the team in place at Commerce gets that quite well. Whether the Commerce report or the new cross agency privacy committee calls for legislation, self regulation or something in between, the plan seems to be to at long last move the privacy agenda forward.