Web Privacy Gains Traction On Both Sides of the Atlantic

Posted November 4th, 2010 at 5:55 pm (UTC-4)
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Could the New US Congress Find Common Cause with the EU?

Even before the votes were counted, the Internet was buzzing with speculation about the 2010 midterm elections: what their meaning may be, their economic fallout and impacts on foreign policy across the globe.

Now add to the list: increased scrutiny of Internet privacy.

The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang reports Thursday that Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), slated to possibly lead the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee in the next Congress, has sent up an early flare of his intent to revisit the issue of Internet privacy and security.

Doing double duty, Kang also has this item noting that the EU will likely push more stringent consumer privacy protections on the Internet.

Which means we may just have hit on one of the few areas the EU and the 112th Congress may see eye-to-eye.

Much more, after the jump. Kang cites a statement by Rep. Barton “…with Facebook executives on privacy issues.”  Here’s the quote:

“I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can’t unless the people’s right to privacy means more than a right to hears excuses after the damage is done.”

That may well be a reference, in part, to a series of public missteps by Facebook acknowledging privacy breeches for many of its 500+ million members.

That Internet privacy is an issue for any politician, let alone one with a more conservative view such as Rep. Barton, is no surprise.  The surprise, Kang notes:

“Such an effort on privacy would mark an exception to the otherwise hands-off approach that the incoming GOP majority is widely expected to take toward issues affecting the high-tech and telecom industries, including regulation of broadband networks.”

Meanwhile across the pond, EU authorities have released a new set of recommendations to adapt existing privacy laws to bolster an individual’s control of private information on the Web.  Calling private data protection “…a fundamental right”, the recommendations would re-write existing privacy laws, and create new ones responding specifically to the relatively recent rise of social networks.

Although the EU has traditionally led the US in terms of consumer protections, that may change under the new Congressional leadership that takes power next January.

CNET’s Declan McCullagh spoke with a variety of Internet privacy advocates who see the new Congress as taking a stronger, perhaps even more interventionist role when it comes to web privacy.  Among others he quotes Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center who see the elections of Democrat Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and the Tea Party-backed Rand Paul (R-KY) to the Senate as positive signs:

“Over on the government oversight side, I think having Rand Paul in the Senate is going to be (a significant check on) the growing surveillance state.”

Calls for increased protections for individuals sharing information on the web have been growing for years.   It may just be that those calls may soon translate into action.

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The Internet, mobile phones, tablet computers and other digital devices are transforming our lives in fundamental and often unpredictable ways. “Digital Frontiers” investigates how real world concepts like privacy, identity, security and freedom are evolving in the virtual world.

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