House privacy talks with tech companies should be open, advocates say

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Last week, the working group held the first of 10 meetings with companies that deal with user data. Lawmakers met with Google, Wal-Mart and data broker firm Bluekai, which discussed how they inform consumers about their data collection and use practices.

The organizations applauded Blackburn and Welch for examining “the enormously important issue of consumer privacy” but said “there is simply no reason for your task force to hold closed-door session.”

The working group should follow congressional rules regarding “open meetings and hearings” because the privacy meetings appear to be similar to traditional congressional hearings, the letter said.

“We recognize that there is value in private meetings among Members and staff and with constituents. But the Congressional hearing process anticipates a different approach when common matters of public concern arise,” the organizations said. 

“Meetings should be held in the open, a public record should be created, and various viewpoints should be heard.”

The advocacy organizations behind the letter include the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Watchdog.

The letter was also sent to House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking members Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), as well as Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.