The Privacy and Innovation Symposium,  hosted by the Department of Commerce (DOC) on May 7, featured in-the-field information from privacy, consumer and Internet stakeholders as the DOC continues to gather public comment on the relationship between U.S. and international privacy regulations and the “information economy.”

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke opened the day’s events, stating in his remarks that, “The Internet is not only a source of tremendous past and future job growth; it is also a driver of global commerce. If we are going to harness the full power of the Internet, we need to establish norms and ground rules that promote innovative uses of information while still respecting consumers’ legitimate privacy interests and democratic values.”  

The event featured multiple sessions, concluding with a panel discussion on “Privacy on the Ground” with Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen, CIPP; Intel Global Privacy Officer David Hoffman, CIPP; Procter & Gamble Global Privacy Executive Sandra Hughes, CIPP; Consumers Union Federal and Informational Affairs Policy Analyst Joel Kelsey, and Ambassador Phil Verveer.

At the start of the session, Prof. Deirdre Mulligan of the University of California, Berkeley, presented an overview on privacy regulation and the work of privacy professionals, including information from past studies and a recent project focusing on responses from nine chief privacy officers.

 “Compliance is a starting point only,” she said, explaining that through CPO responses it is clear that “privacy wasn’t something being dealt with by the lawyers at the end of the day…but was being baked into the process.”

When it comes to regulation, she suggested, “We have to take into account privacy in practice, not just on paper.”

Cullen spoke of how engineers design software to incorporate privacy controls but pointed out the challenges that exist. For example, he said, a phishing filter that helps protect people from “things that go bump on the Internet” also requires the collection of IP addresses, which creates a quandary, he said.

Trust, he said, is essential to companies’ privacy safeguards, pointing out that, “Nobody uses our stuff unless they trust it.”

At Procter & Gamble, Hughes explained, “Our privacy principles and policies are based on the strictest around the globe” and are “built into any new initiative that we might undertake.”

However, she noted, understanding relationships with consumers and fostering trust “is what drives us. It’s not the regulations.”

Kelsey offered a different perspective on consumer privacy protection, explaining that a recent Consumer Reports survey indicated users do not always understand what is happening around such online practices as behavioral advertising or with “data miners and aggregators.”

When it comes to trust, he said, surveys have shown that consumers want appropriate regulations on the books to protect them if anything should happen with their sensitive information.

Referencing what CPOs have been doing, Kelsey said that while he believes “there’s a lot of great work going on—innovating—to bring privacy out of that compliance framework,” the federal government should be looking at such issues as opt in and opt out and sale of personal information.

Verveer said the solutions to privacy controls may be found in the same evolving technologies that have “created the problem” in the first place, urging the private sector and government to work together to encourage a prompt response to privacy issues in the international arena that focuses on outcomes rather than form.

Verveer’s comments called to mind the words Locke used at the start of the day’s events.

“I encourage the business community to identify industry best practices in the handling of private information online and to share what they have learned with the administration,” Locke had said. “We are depending on the same input from consumer groups and privacy advocates to ensure we formulate well-rounded government policies…that ensure privacy and promote prosperity.”

Feedback sent to privacy-noi-2010@ntia.doc.gov will continue to be reviewed over the spring and summer months as the DOC hopes to issue a report on its finding this fall.


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