April 9 2012
The Obama administration released its online privacy plan in February. The plan would, according to the President, lay out "clear rules of the road that ensure [...] personal information is safe online.”
But it does no such thing. Meanwhile, Obama Administration policies continue to increasingly shrink the scope of privacy in the digital realm. Privacy plans to protect online consumers should focus on protection from the government.
The Obama privacy plan aimed at consumer privacy would codify data collection standards by online monitoring companies. Besides this, the plan does little but merely promise that internet users’ security is a priority. The administration is drawing attention the commitment of Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of the web’s largest advertisers, to offer an opt-out option to skip their ads.
Obama’s privacy plan lacks specific goals and provides seemingly minor improvements in protecting the privacy of internet users. At the same time, the actions of the administration point to an office that’s more concerned with clandestine gathering of information from private citizens than protecting online privacy and security. The amount of information that’s made available to the federal government regarding the actions of private citizens increases every day. And this is no accident.
President Obama signed a renewal of the PATRIOT Act in February 2010 after Congress passed an extension of key provisions. In May 2011, the story repeated itself as the House and Senate passed a four year extension of the PATRIOT ACT and Obama, abroad in Europe, still made it a priority to get the bill signed. Some of these provisions expanded the scope of the government’s ability to obtain information from companies like Google on its customers. One outlet calls them “spy provisions.” These provisions give FBI the power to access customer service records from Internet service providers, as well as financial institutions and credit companies, without a court order.
In a separate case, the Obama administration’s Justice Department argued before a federal appeals court that warrantless surveillance on private citizens through cell phones is acceptable and desirable, because Americans have “no reasonable expectation of privacy" in their locations.
While the Obama consumer privacy plan aims to protect consumers’ privacy from online companies like Google that collect data from users, Google is not the only problem. Google discloses the number of requests it gets from governments for its users data. In 2011, there were almost 6,000 government requests for the data of 11,000 users. Google complied 93% of these requests.
It’s is an internet company that is releasing user information. But it’s the government asking for this information. Internet users need protection against government encroachment of online privacy from governments and private companies, because the two are complicit. If the Obama administration were serious about online privacy, it would do well to look at its own policies first.