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Will the Government Micromanage Online Privacy?

Privacy
Author: Mark Dixon
Saturday, November 20, 2010
3:20 am

I currently publish two blogs: “Discovering Identity” (this one) and “I Love Freedom.”  Usually, the information I publish on these blogs doesn’t overlap, but this subject certainly does, and is posted on both sites.

Thanks to an acquaintance, Jane Grafton, I recently read two opposing views on the subject of federal government regulations of privacy:

An LA Times article, Privacy and the Web, concluded:

Although Washington shouldn’t try to micromanage the Net, it should make clear that websites have a duty to help users manage their personal information effectively, giving them the chance to understand the tradeoffs they’re making and to choose wisely.

Phil Lieberman of Lieberman Software responded in his post, “Internet Privacy Is No Place for Government Regulations”:

Attempts by the federal government to constrain the collection of data, and the ability to tailor offers based on this data, is a case of the government meddling in areas where it has no place.  Interference with the free market serves only to punish those companies that know how to efficiently mine their data and so is the worst form of government interference with the free market.

I’m all for privacy and opt-in/opt-out options. However I feel it does little good to cripple those companies who are good at business for the purpose of expanding the nanny-state. Any decision to overreach with privacy controls will also provide a bounty for greedy and litigious attorneys looking for fresh kills on the Internet.

What do you think? 

Although the LA Times article mildly asks the federal government not to “micromanage the Net,” history has that government has the propensity to always micromanage everything it touches.  How’s that for a cynical view?

If I believe the most effective way to deal with this issue would be for private industry to self-regulate. In much the same that PCI DSS has become an effective industry-driven regulation of the credit card industry, perhaps we need an “Online Privacy Standard” developed and enforced by the online industry itself. 

Otherwise, if such industry self-regulation doesn’t happen, given the current mood in Congress, I think federal government regulation of online privacy is a foregone conclusion (more cynicism).

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One Response to “Will the Government Micromanage Online Privacy?”

    Mark, I completely agree with you. It is a known fact that self-regulation in industries works for the benefit of all organizations in that industry. The 2009 Economics Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom, also agrees that common resources are best managed by those who have a common interest. And your PCI DSS example is great. The Credit Card industry has an interest of minimizing its losses and improve consumer confidence on a system largely based on trust. I think all of us in the Indentity Management field have an important role on driving these standards and the government should be another user/member where its input is weighed just as any other organization involved. Government does have a role in Online Privacy to protect the data it holds about its citizens, but not to “force” industries on government based implementations.

    Comment by Frank Wray on November 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm

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