Privacy Advocacy Overreach

by on January 23, 2008 · 2 comments

I originally started studying and writing about privacy policy because I thought the advocates in Washington, and Congress itself, didn’t have a full grasp of the issues. They were treating privacy as a political football, and grinding their political, ideological, and self-interest axes on “the privacy issue.”

Illustrating how that problem may persist, Declan McCullagh has a strong rip on the Electronic Privacy Information Center on his Iconoclast blog. It seems that EPIC and some of its allies recently filed a strongly worded complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about problems with AskEraser that no longer exist.

The AskEraser cookie originally had a time-stamp that could act like a unique identifier, so Ask.com changed it. Nonetheless, in went EPIC’s “Complaint and Request for Injunction, Request for Investigation and for Other Relief.”

The government’s undirected, surveillance-heavy overreaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks brought me together with lots of folks with whom I disagree on lesser issues like private-sector regulation and privacy practices. I often joke that people will know their privacy is pretty well protected when I’m back to fighting with EPIC and the ACLU. Well, I don’t intend to pick a fight now, because there’s still too much to be done, but a privacy advocacy group shouldn’t just be an FTC-complaint mill.

Declan speculates that EPIC files with the FTC rather than suing (there are some arguable causes of action) because courts would sanction them for frivolous filings. Prospectively calling EPIC’s future bluffs, he says: “The next time you see them complaining to the FTC about some alleged wrongdoing, remember these attorneys’ odd reluctance to litigate.”

  • Adam Thierer

    Jim, you went too easy on these guys. These guys are turning the FTC into the same sort of complaint factory that the FCC has become. Essentially, EPIC and CDD are engaging in the equivalent of what Parents Television Council, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Center do every day at the FCC: bombard the agency with stacks of computer-generated complaints and other absurd petitions until something sticks and someone gets regulated.

  • Adam Thierer

    Jim, you went too easy on these guys. These guys are turning the FTC into the same sort of complaint factory that the FCC has become. Essentially, EPIC and CDD are engaging in the equivalent of what Parents Television Council, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Center do every day at the FCC: bombard the agency with stacks of computer-generated complaints and other absurd petitions until something sticks and someone gets regulated.

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