White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights provokes debate

In February 2015, Privacy Imagethe White House proposed a draft “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” that the Obama administration believes will provide a baseline of clear protections for consumers, as well as greater certainty for companies who currently have to navigate a patchwork of state privacy laws across the country.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is part of a policy memo titled “Consumer Privacy in a Networked World:  A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.” The document calls on Congress to pass legislation that adopts the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The document also asks Congress to give both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and individual state attorneys general authority to enforce the Bill, although only the FTC could seek financial penalties.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposes specific obligations on companies who collect data from individual considers that will preserve the consumers rights to:

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

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights has been criticized by consumer advocacy and industry groups alike, as well as by the commissioner of the FTC. Nonetheless, it has provoked a discussion that may help establish a uniform standard for protecting consumer data across the United States. Just days after the administration released the proposal, a group of senators who criticized it re-introduced a bill that would regulate data brokers who collect and sell personal and sensitive information about consumers.

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