Politico: Obama, Congress Slow to Curb 'Corporate Cybersnooping'

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 11:31 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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While private industry cyberspying snowballs, Washington is moving at "dial-up speed" in its efforts to draft any legislation to protect consumers’ privacy, according to Politico.

Despite President Barack Obama’s promise two years ago — before Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s spying practices — to protect consumer privacy, his administration, as well as politicians from both parties, have idled in their efforts to implement safeguards.

A Politico investigation found "deep reluctance in D.C. to exercise legislative, regulatory, or executive power to curb the big business of corporate cybersnooping."

On the right, Republicans want to steer clear of additional regulations on businesses, while those on the left "are skittish about alienating campaign donors in Silicon Valley," according to Politico.

The few privacy bills in Congress have gotten nowhere, according to Politico, despite Obama’s 62-page Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which he presented in 2012 as a blueprint for privacy in the information age that would offer a framework for protecting privacy and promoting innovation in a digital world.

"These rights give consumers clear guidance on what they should expect from those who handle their personal information, and set expectations for companies that use personal data," Obama wrote in the bill’s introduction. "I call on these companies to begin immediately working with privacy advocates, consumer protection enforcement agencies, and others to implement these principles in enforceable codes of conduct. My administration will work to advance these principles and work with Congress to put them into law."

But since then, there has been no legislation presented to implement it.

"White House officials now acknowledge the proposal is outdated and may have been so on the day it was introduced," Politico reports.

Without legislation or regulation, tech and marketing companies have no intention of scaling back efforts to both develop new methods to mine data or converting the data collected to target consumers, privacy expert Peter Swire said.

The chief privacy officer for data broker Acxiom defended cybertracking, explaining that it is a "valuable service" that helps companies narrow in on consumers’ lifestyles and spending patterns.

"Ferrari doesn’t want to bring people into the dealership for a free toaster oven if they’re in the $30,000- to $50,000-a-year income range," Acxiom’s Jennifer Glasgow said.

A Senate report, according to Politico, showed that there are as many as 75,000 data points collected by private companies for each consumer, and "volumes more" are on the way "as technology unleashes a huge wave of connected devices — from sneaker insoles to baby onesies to cars and refrigerators — that quietly track, log, and analyze our every move."

Privacy advocates worry that the endless amounts of personal information available to data brokers — profiles that include such details as individuals’ health, education level, political, and religious affiliations, as well as address, phone numbers, and email accounts — could compromise Americans’ right to an expectation of privacy, according to Politico.

Digital privacy is now a key issue of the American Civil Liberties Union, which notes on its website that "Americans shouldn’t have to choose between new technology and keeping their personal information private.

"Protections for online privacy are justified and necessary, and the government must help draw boundaries to ensure that Americans’ privacy stays intact in the Digital Age."

The ACLU and others are fighting to ensure legislation is enacted to balance technological advancements with Americans’ right to privacy.

"Are they going to be little snitches in our pockets, or are they going to be under our control and serving us?" an ACLU senior policy analyst told Politico.

"The genius and the fury of capitalism is that everyone is trying to compete with each other about who can collect the most detailed information about consumers. Where will it end? We have to put some rules in the road."

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