Posted December 17, 2010 4:31 pm by with 1 comment

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I can see it now. The black screen, the ominous ba bum sound and then the words, Law & Order: Privacy Division. They’re federal agents who put their lives on the line every day so that you, the internet user, can surf without fear of being molested by targeted Old Navy ads and free lunch coupons on your birthday. Sure they’re making it hard for the small business marketer to sell his wares, but hey, that’s the way the browser cookie crumbles. Get over it.

So, maybe it won’t be on next fall’s TV schedule, but it may be coming to a computer near you, if the federal government gets their way. Yesterday, the Commerce Department released the Internet Policy Task Force Privacy Green Paper which is loaded with recommendations “aimed at promoting consumer privacy online while ensuring the Internet remains a platform that spurs innovation, job creation, and economic growth.”

The crux of the long report is that it’s okay for the industry to self-regulate as long as the government has the power to come in and slap them when they don’t do it right. Huh? That’s like asking someone to get you a coffee then docking their pay when they bring you a café latte instead of a café mocha.

There’s no question that privacy is an issue on the web. As the report points out, global transactions run around $10 trillion annually. More people than ever are working on the internet, many handling sensitive data, and then there are the kids who think nothing of providing personal information to anyone who asks. Yes, rules would be good. But making them voluntary kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

Here are the key recommendations from the report:

Consider Establishing Fair Information Practice Principles comparable to a “Privacy Bill of Rights” for Online Consumers

They’re looking to establish a reasonable set of principles governing how information can be collected and used. They’re also advocating more transparency when it comes to informing consumers of their rights. Those read and check privacy pop-ups that everyone checks but doesn’t read, aren’t cutting it.

Consider Developing Enforceable Privacy Codes of Conduct in Specific Sectors with Stakeholders; Create a Privacy Policy Office in the Department of Commerce

They want to establish a special government office to handle internet privacy. They’ll have badges and secret decoder rings and the right to shut down abusive websites in a single bound.

Encourage Global Interoperability to Spur Innovation and Trade

Basically, this is the ‘can’t we all just get along’ section which suggests we find a “practical means of bridging differences in our privacy frameworks.” It is a small world, after all.

Consider How to Harmonize Disparate Security Breach Notification Rules

I love the use of the word “harmonize” here. Makes it sound like the groups from The Sing-Off will be employed to go door-to-door to announce whenever Facebook accidentally sells their private data to a game company. Could work.

Review the Electronic Communications Privacy Act for the Cloud Computing Environment

Ah, cloud computing. Like harmonize, it makes it sound all sweet and fluffy. But this section is all about making sure that the laws keep up with the growth in location-based services. This is the one place where they really get tough. “As technology and market conditions change, ECPA continues to appropriately protect individuals’ privacy expectations and punish unlawful access and disclosure of consumer data.”

Punish! Now we’re getting to the heart of this thing. But as harsh as that may sound to you, the marketer, consumer watchdogs say it’s a gift.

In a recent press release, John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog had this to say;

“The Commerce report starts off on the wrong foot with the title, ‘Commercial Data Privacy…’ We are talking about consumers’ data and their right to privacy, not about a business commodity. This is an early Christmas gift to the data collection industry.”

I wouldn’t ever say that government involvement in anything is a “gift” but he does have a point. This lengthy Commerce Department report is all about how the US government wants to protect the people, but the whole thing sounds like a giant game of Mother, May I. Yes, Facebook, you may take two giants steps toward the finish line.

Want to read the whole report. Good for you. Go download a copy at

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