White House releases online privacy bill

The White House on Friday released a discussion draft of proposed legislation to protect consumer privacy online.

The proposal, known as the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act, would require companies to provide clear notice of how they use data, ensure data isn’t reused in other contexts and give consumers a method to have their data deleted.

Under the bill, industries could develop codes of conduct to government data use that the Federal Trade Commission would have to approve.

According to the White House, the draft “seeks to provide consumers with more control over their data” and give companies “clearer ways to signal their responsible stewardship over data.”

The measure updates a 2012 “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” the administration released as part of its last big digital privacy push. Those efforts were derailed by the Edward Snowden disclosures and revelations of secret government spying programs.

In recent months, the White House has restarted its online privacy push in earnest.

The administration unveiled several cybersecurity legislative proposals in January intended to increase public-private cybersecurity information-sharing, create a national standard for data breach notifications and protect student data.

President Obama later signed an executive order to ease restrictions on public-private cyber data sharing at a heavily-promoted White House cyber summit at Stanford University.

During this flurry of activity, the White House also promised to release a new consumer online privacy legislative proposal by the end of February.

The administration said Friday that its offering “applies common-sense protections to personal data collected online or offline regardless of how data is shared.”

The draft has already generated some discontent in the privacy community.

Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester said the measure would actually weaken digital privacy.

The measure would strip the FTC of some of its broad authority to go after companies for deceptively and unfairly using consumer data, he argued.

With little legislation covering the handling of consumer data, the FTC has become the de facto online privacy regulator in recent years.

Chester worried that the White House bill would give companies too much cover from FTC enforcement activity, even though the commission is authorized to enforce the bill’s provisions.

The White House disagrees.

The measure would empower the FTC to seek civil damages against companies violating the bill's privacy principles. 

The administration emphasized that the proposal “promotes responsible practices that can maximize the benefits of data analysis while taking important steps to minimize risks, including the risk of discrimination.”

— Updated 4:36 p.m.