13 Mar Boucher & Liebowitz on consumer privacy at CDT dinner
Ars Technica, By Julian Sanchez, March 12, 2009
Rep. Rick Boucher and FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz offer slightly divergent takes on consumer privacy online at CDT’s annual dinner. The Center for Democracy and Technology held its annual dinner—aka, DC’s Tech Prom—on Tuesday, with new Federal Trade Commission Chair Jon Leibowitz and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), who recently took the helm of the House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee, as featured speakers. Both focused on the need for more stringent online consumer privacy protection, but I got the distinct impression they didn’t have a chance to compare notes before delivering their remarks. Echoing previous statements, Leibowitz announced that the FTC would develop a set of privacy principles for behavioral marketing, and said he was “hopeful that [the] industry responds with concrete improvement.” Though he warned that the commission would back legislation “if there isn’t an appropriately vigorous response,” he appeared to favor giving self-regulation a last chance. Boucher, however, averred that “the time has come to take this response one step further,” with legislation that would “make sure all web sites comply with a basic set of privacy assurances”—legislation he asserted there were now sufficient votes in the Senate to push through. As outlined by Boucher, there would be three central components to privacy rules: “conspicuous disclosure” of what information is gathered and how it is used, an option to opt-out of data collection for internal purposes, and an explicit opt-in requirement for any information sharing with third parties. As it happened, there were a few Google execs seated at my table. One remarked that the company was actually better off with some baseline regulation—which clarifies rules of the road and puts sites on a level playing field. Another looked so physically stricken during Boucher’s talk I was afraid he’d spill his water—though that might’ve been caused by a migraine as easily as anything the congressman said.