The White House’s “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World” report outlines a revised framework for consumer privacy, proposes a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” and calls on Congress to pass new legislation to regulate online businesses. The following statement can be attributed to Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, and Larry Downes, TechFreedom Senior Adjunct Fellow:
This Report begins and ends as constitutional sleight-of-hand. President Obama starts by reminding us of the Fourth Amendment’s essential protection against “unlawful intrusion into our homes and our personal papers”—by government. But the Report recommends no reform whatsoever for outdated laws that have facilitated a dangerous expansion of electronic surveillance. That is the true threat to our privacy. The report dismisses it in a footnote.
Instead, the Report calls for extensive new regulation of Internet businesses to address little more than the growing pains of a vibrant emerging economy. “For businesses to succeed online,” President Obama asserts, “consumers must feel secure.” Yet online businesses that rely on data to deliver innovative and generally free services are the one bright spot in a sour economy. Experience has shown consumers ultimately bear the costs of regulations imposed on emerging technologies, no matter how well-intentioned.
The report is a missed opportunity. The Administration should have called for increased protections against government’s privacy intrusions. Focusing on the real Bill of Rights would have respected not only the Fourth Amendment, but also the First Amendment. The Supreme Court made clear last year that the private sector’s use of data is protected speech—an issue also not addressed by this Report.
Szoka and Downes are available for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.