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Obama administration introduces bill of rights protecting online consumer behavior


WASHINGTON—As part of a comprehensive blueprint to improve privacy protections “and ensure the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth,” the Obama administration on Thursday announced the creation of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

According to a statement released by the White House, the Commerce Department will begin convening companies, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop and implement enforceable privacy polices based on the bill.

The White House said leading Internet companies and online advertising networks, including Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AOL Inc., have agreed to comply with consumers' wishes when they choose to control online tracking.

In addition, the statement said the Obama administration will work with Congress to develop privacy legislation.

“American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” President Barack Obama said in the statement.

“As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure,” he said.

“By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth,” President Obama said.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is discussed in "Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy,” a report issued by the White House.

Elements of the bill include individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection and accountability.

Other aspects of the administration's framework discussed in the report are:

• Fostering multi-stakeholder processes to develop enforceable codes of conduct. “Private sector participation will be voluntary and companies ultimately will choose whether to adopt a given code of conduct,” says the report.

• Strengthening Federal Trade Commission enforcement. The report says the administration encourages Congress to provide the FTC and state attorneys general with “specific authority” to enforce the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

• Improving global interoperability. “The Administration's framework embraces the goal of increased international interoperability as a means to provide consistent, low-barrier rules for personal data in the user-driven and decentralized Internet environment,” says the report.

Commenting on the White House proposal, Ben Beeson, executive director of risk solutions for Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in London, said it is “giving consumers greater controls, I would say, over how their data is handled by the corporate world.”

“I think legislators are realizing that not enough is being done to protect the individual,” Mr. Beeson said.

A recent survey found that most consumers in the United States, Great Britain and Australia are worried about possible exposure of their personal information, and many have lost confidence in how companies protect data.

For in-depth coverage of this topic and related issues, visit our Solution Arc on Managing and Insuring Cyber Security Risks.