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Consumer Data Privacy In A Networked World: according to Obama

President Obama has recently released his plan to ‘protect’ our privacy online.

 The plan is entitled “Consumer Data Privacy In A Networked World.”

Any time I see legislation that seemly comes out of nowhere it raises an eyebrow. My concern is heightened when this legislation is for the ‘public good.’

As Ronald Regan once said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” 

With that aprehension in mind, I decided this was worth taking a look at. 

In the president’s forward we read the following:

Justice Brandeis taught us that privacy is the “right to be let alone,” but we also know that privacy is about much more than just solitude or secrecy.”

And

“This is why we have laws that protect financial privacy and health privacy, and that protect consumers against unfair and deceptive uses of their information.”

If we have the right to be left alone and already have laws that protect privacy why do we need this new legislation? 

President Obama is attempting to pull the same old deception when he attempts to involve government in the everyday lives of its citizens.

Absurdity concealed in plausibility is how I define Obama’s plan of deception.

Here’s how it works; you or create a need (real or imagined). Then you campaign for legislation. Finally you convince the public this legislation is for your protection and your own good.

 Absurdity concealed in plausibility happens when you lay out a grandiose plan with vague solutions that everyone can agree with.

While everyone is nodding yes to the highlights (the points of agreement) the government is creating a framework whereby they can violate the very principles of the legislation at hand.

Who can argue that online data privacy is not a serious issue? No one! Step one complete.

Now that we have created the need;

“Trust is essential to maintaining the social and economic benefits that networked technologies bring to the United States and the rest of the world. With the confidence that companies will handle information about them fairly and responsibly, consumers have turned to the Internet to express their creativity, join political movements, form and maintain friendships, and engage in commerce. The Internet’s global connectivity means that a single innovator’s idea can grow rapidly into a product or service that becomes a daily necessity for hundreds of millions of consumers.”

We have been told why this is good for us. Step two complete. 

Now that we all agree on the first two points, we need a plan, and Obama has one:

“A Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights”

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. 

Yes those are all plausible rights or plausible solutions, but don’t we already have those rights? Too bad we don’t seem to answer that question before we get sucked into believing that we need this.

This “Proposed bill of rights” is only one element of four parts of the complete plan, the other 3 are;

  • Fostering Multistakeholder Processes to Develop Enforceable Codes of Conduct
  • Strengthening FTC Enforcement
  • Improving Global Interoperability

Now we begin to get to the absurd part of this legislation:

You have an extremely vague “bill of rights” which is going to be used to develop “enforceable codes of conduct” determined by a group of “multistakeholders.”

The dangers hidden among this pie in the sky legislation can be compared to breadcrumbs seeded throughout this document that lead us bit by bit to a place we don’t want to wind up. If you were to see the entire plan on page one, you would reject it.

Because we are given the legislation piecemeal it’s a little more difficult to see it for what it really is; legislation that will allow the government access to private data without a court order.

Danger #1  

Even if Congress does not pass legislation, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights will serve as a template for privacy protections that increase consumer trust on the Internet and promote innovation.”

That is an out and out lie. If Congress does not pass the legislation, then it does not become law and therefore is not enforceable. If it’s not enforceable then it cannot offer protection. The only other way it could offer any protection would be by executive intervention. 

Some of the breadcrumbs that lead to this conclusion are found in the same Executive Summary:

“The Administration’s framework outlines a multistakeholder process to produce enforceable codes of conduct…”

“legally enforceable codes of conduct.”

“As part of consumer data privacy legislation, the Administration encourages Congress to provide the FTC (and State Attorneys General) with specific authority to enforce the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

“The Administration will implement this framework without delay.”

The administration has already decided what will be included in this legislation and they have already laid the groundwork to enforce this legislation at the executive level, knowing full well that Congress is not going to pass a bill of rights compiled by multistakeholders in a public forum.

“In the coming months, the Department of Commerce will work with other Federal agencies to convene stakeholders, including our international partners, to develop enforceable codes of conduct that build on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.”

I doubt there will ever be a convention of stakeholders to develop enforceable codes of conduct in the coming months. Any additional ideas of privacy invasion that can be gleaned from a convention of academia may just be added to the “consumer bill of rights.”

But be sure this administration already knows how they are going to use this absurd legislation to invade your privacy, track your movements online and limit your freedom of speech.

Since when did it become common practice that a group of mulitstakeholders, invited or volunteered, start deciding what the laws of this country would be? Is that how it’s going to be from now on?

Instead of having laws written and passed by the House and Senate, are we going to have laws compiled by the court of public opinion?

What’s next, mob rule?

Another breadcrumb of information we find wreaks of cronyism.

Page 24 of this document we read;

“There is no Federal regulation at the end of the process, and codes will not bind any companies unless they choose to adopt them.”

So does this mean that the Obama administration wants to pass an enforceable bill of rights but it’s an option to companies whether they chose to obey those rights? 

Or is there a little more to it, maybe a hidden or implied benefit?

“The incentive for stakeholders to participate in this process is twofold.”

The first of these “incentives” is baloney, but the second is noteworthy.

“Second, in any enforcement action based on conduct covered by a code, the FTC will consider a company’s adherence to a code favorably.”

What does that mean? Does it mean the FTC will cut you some slack if you play ball, even if it flies in the face of the defined purpose of the FTC? According to wikipedia the FTC’s principle function is: 

“Its principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of what regulators perceive to be harmfully anti-competitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly.”

So while the FTC was designed to prevent and eliminate coercive activities, “the FTC will consider a company’s adherence to a code favorably?”

Coercion, favoritism, or crony capitalism, you decide. Businesses beware!

Once these rights are completely compiled (which I think they already are), next comes the Adoption step.

“The Administration expects that a company’s public commitment to adhere to a code of conduct will become enforceable under Section 5 of the FTC Act (15 U.S.C. § 45),” 

Expecting a company to do what it says it is going to do is reasonable, the hook comes with the term “enforceable.” The basis for enforcement is the sited rule (FTC Act (15 U.S.C. § 45).

 I read through the rule several times, and it made my head hurt.

Not only is it extremely confusing (what with the exclusions), it could easily be construed to produce a wide variety of results. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find the word privacy anywhere in the act.

Now that we have a vague set of rules, rights, or whatever you want to call them, we see the government’s decision to prosecute could be determined by the company’s willingness to co-operate with the FTC; we proceed to the next step, enforcement.

There’s a problem though. Before the Obama plan can be enforced as desired certain gaps have to be closed.

“The FTC is the Federal Government’s leading consumer privacy enforcement authority.”

But the footnote displays the gap.

“Note, however, the FTC does not currently have authority to enforce Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15, U.S.C. § 45, against certain corporations that operate for profit.”

If you read the Act, you will see there are very few corporations that could be prosecuted under this Act. Harassed yes, put out of business over legal defense expenses yes, coerced to play by the rules the government dictates yes, but actually prosecuted no.

This is not enough to deter the Obama Administration, so they press on;

“With or without consumer data privacy legislation, the FTC should provide assistance and advice regarding development of the codes.”

If I operate a business or act as an individual on the internet and not in violation of the law, I do not want any assistance or interference from the FTC, or any other government agency.

But this ‘assistance’ will be forced on me at the behest of the executive branch outside of any legislation enacted by Congress.

This is Danger #2

The next step is Enactment:

The Administration urges Congress to pass legislation adopting the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

President Obama urges Congress to pass legislation based on this “bill of rights” that will be compiled as a result of multistakeholder meetings which haven’t taken place yet?

Some will insist my conclusions and warning is the result of a twisted interpretation of a plan that will protect the consumer and is something that is needed in this age of information. And to you I say that is exactly what they want you to believe; that this legislation is plausible, nay it is for our own good.

And you would be mistaken. Those that claim to protect are also in a position to violate their own rules (for your protection).

The administration plans to go further than urging as you will see very shortly.

“The legislation should permit the FTC and State Attorneys General to enforce these rights directly.”

We come to Danger #3 (in the footnotes)

The Administration is separately considering the need to amend laws pertaining to the government’s access to data in the possession of private parties,”

The intent of the government’s plan could not be stated clearer than it is in this footnote.

The Administration is separately considering – with the oversight or guidance of whom?

The need to amend the laws – determined by whom?

The government’s access to data – will the judicial branch be involved in this decision?

Data in the possession of private parties – will there be a distinction drawn between individuals and companies?

The administration’s offering protection to consumers, at the expense of certain liberties is a dangerous proposition. They have already compiled the “bill of rights” even though they claim to rely on a group of multistakeholders to compile them.

They are urging Congress to act on these rights and grant the FTC immediate authority to enforce these rights as though they were already law.

The Administration has asked for great latitude in interpretation and enforcement of these laws against violators, with clear advisement to anyone if you play ball we will look favorably on your practices.

This briefing sights statutes and acts from Sherman Antitrust laws to the FTC for the sole purpose of opening the door of interpretation as wide as possible to give the enforcers many, many tools to use against those who would act in a deceptive manor with regard to privacy laws.

Since this whole proposed bill is directed at online companies and individuals we must be careful not to think this process will stop at privacy legislation. Deceptive practices are hidden within these rules and regulations as well as coercion.

This is merely the first step in seeking to control the content on the internet.

The gap between privacy and free speech is being closed by the government. How long before your privacy is violated by a government who thinks you are engaging in deceptive practices online?

Remember the larger the web you weave, the easier it is to catch yourself.

Call your elected representatives and have them repeal this absurd legislation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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