Getting Online Privacy Policy Right

Center For American Progress

Online privacy is drawing increasing attention from policy makers, the press, and the public due to rapid changes in social networking, online targeted advertising, and location-based services for smart phones. Last month, the Department of Commerce asked for comment on its new green paper, entitled “Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework.” One important proposal in the green paper was to create a Privacy Policy Office in the Department of Commerce.
Much as is occurring this year, the FTC and Commerce Departments played complementary roles in the mid- to late-1990s in developing privacy policy. At the Federal Trade Commission, privacy initiatives were pushed by Chairman Robert Pitofsky, Commissioners Mozelle Thompson and Christine Varney, and Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau Jodie Bernstein (along with her dedicated staff, led by David Medine). At the Commerce Department, Barbara Wellbery and Becky Burr played important roles, as did Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Larry Irving, General Counsel Andy Pincus, Undersecretary for the International Trade Administration David Aaron, and Secretary William Daley. The history of the FTC’s involvement in this period has been well discussed in work by Kenneth Bamberger and Deirdre Mulligan.