It’s Time for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

February 28, 2012

The White HousePresident Obama recently announced his intention to work with Congress to implement new legislation establishing a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Dramatically expanded use of information and communications technologies has highlighted many controversial privacy issues.

Clear and concise legislation defining and protecting consumer privacy in the digital age is long overdue.

The President’s proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is an important positive step.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights advocated by the President consists of the following key elements:

Empowerment of the Individual: The privacy framework will establish legal rights for individual consumers designed to provide them with greater control over the personal information collected from them and the manner in which that information is used.

Accuracy and Access: It will provide legal mechanisms to facilitate consumer access to their personal information, as well as opportunities for individuals to ensure the accuracy of that information.

Security: The legislation will establish security obligations designed to protect personal information collected from consumers against misuse.

Openness and Transparency: The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights will implement rules to ensure that consumers have easy access to understandable information describing the material that is being collected, what parties have access to that material, and how the material is being used.

Focus: The privacy system will require parties collecting and using personal consumer information to limit and control the scope of the information they collect and the ways in which that information is used.

Respect for Context: The privacy legislation will place obligations on parties who collect or use personal information, requiring all such access and use to be consistent with the context in which the individual consumer originally agreed to make the personal information available.

Accountability: The privacy framework will impose legal accountability on specific parties, holding them directly responsible for compliance with the requirements of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Despite the clear statement of support from the President, there remains much work to be done before comprehensive privacy legislation can be implemented. 

There have been many previous efforts which have been unsuccessful.  Even if the legislation is successfully enacted, significant enforcement challenges must also be addressed.

Yet, the President’s initiative merits attention and support.

It should also be noted that the key principles of the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights provide an effective and important framework for immediate action even before enactment of the legislation. 

Those key elements provide a very useful system for privacy protection.

Businesses and other organizations should immediately incorporate those basic privacy principles into their operational policies, practices, and procedures.

Individual consumers should familiarize themselves with those privacy concepts, and they should demand that the organizations with which they interact accept and abide by the key aspects of effective information privacy management.

Through these actions, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights can begin to enhance privacy protections for individuals long before the legislation itself goes into effect.