US unveils privacy “Bill of Rights”, endorses industry “Do Not Track” framework


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On Thursday 23 February, the White House unveiled an administration White Paper outlining a blueprint for privacy regulation, including a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" - a set of principles intended to guide how businesses handle consumers' personal information - and steps to incorporate those principles into federal regulations. The standards will then be enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission.

The White House has invited stakeholders – companies and privacy advocates under the leadership of the Department of Commerce – to develop, in a multistakeholder approach, enforceable codes of conduct aligned with the principles of “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” outlined in the US administration's blueprint:

Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

In addition, the White Paper formally supported the announcement by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) – a coalition of US' leading media, marketing, and technology companies and their trade associations, including WFA's US member ANA – of an agreement that will lead to the adoption of Do Not Track (DNT) features integrated into web browsers. This agreement builds on the work undertaken by the DAA since 2009 to voluntarily design consumer-friendly ways for internet users to control the use of online behavioural advertising (OBA) and other forms of cross-site tracking. Complementing existing control mechanisms, the DNT technology will allow consumers to easily opt-out of OBA through their browsers.

The publication of this paper has been welcomed by industry associations, regulators and privacy advocates. FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said of the agreement in a statement: “It's great to see that companies are stepping up to our challenge to protect privacy so consumers have greater choice and control over how they are tracked online. More needs to be done, but the work they have done so far is very encouraging.”

In Europe, Robert Madelin, Director General of the Commission's Directorate for Information Society indicated on the social networking site Twitter that both the US and the EU want similar browser-based solutions. “Now we need similar 'guidelines'” he tweeted. Robert Madelin is coordinating discussions at EU level on a similar voluntary framework for OBA.

Other observers in Europe however note that the voluntary framework approach of the White Paper may clash with the more rigid legal approach in Europe and will lead to an international struggle as the US seeks wider acceptance of its system. Reacting to the US news, European privacy groups have already indicated that they would fight any transatlantic influence on European privacy standards. “We'd regard it as a disaster,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. “Europe has a much clearer and stricter view on privacy.” However, he added that Europe has struggled with its own efforts to develop a “do not track” requirement, and that the US proposal, if it were to prove workable, could influence the shape of similar rules in Europe.

Meanwhile, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-authors of the "Do Not Track Kids Act" introduced in the US congress in May 2011, vowed to push ahead with their bi-partisan legislative proposal. “I am happy the White House is taking consumer privacy serious, working with private industry to develop a privacy bill of rights for Internet companies to follow,” Barton said. “However, without the adoption of this list of “best practices” by Internet companies, the new guidelines will not be enforceable. The “Do Not Track Kids Act” would restrict online marketing to children and create an "Eraser Button" for parents to delete information that companies gather about their children.

WFA Priorities
Together with its EU coalition partners, WFA will continue rolling out of the European self-regulatory OBA Framework, building on the US DAA blueprint. The EU SR Framework will be administered by the EDAA, to be launched shortly. Meanwhile, the European Commission has recently published a proposal to revise the EU Data Protection Framework, which is currently being examined by the European Parliament and national governments. WFA will identify the key challenges brought by this radical overhaul and will continue to work closely with industry coalition partners to defend marketers' interests. The US White Paper, and the developments on DNT in particular, will no doubt have an impact in all these discussions.

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