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Common Sense Media Acknowledges President Obama's Leadership on Privacy, Urges Him to Improve Privacy Protections for Children and Teens

Join Common Sense and leading consumer and privacy groups in calling for substantial improvements to the proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015

I wanted to share the letter to President Obama that Common Sense Media signed along with 13 other leading consumer and privacy organizations today. The joint letter acknowledges the president's leadership on privacy while calling for substantial improvements to the recently released discussion draft of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015 to protect Americans' fundamental right to privacy and provide more meaningful and enforceable control over the collection, use, and sharing of their personal information. Of particular concern to Common Sense, the draft bill fails to improve privacy protections for information about children and teens and does not recognize that their personal information deserves heightened protection (in contrast to existing law and FTC policy). Thankfully, the draft bill recognizes that state laws that address the privacy of minors or K–12 students should not be preempted.

We look forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress to craft a bill that provides clear, comprehensive privacy protections for individuals -- with special protections for our children and teens.

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

N.W. Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

In 2012, you released your vision of the founding principles of consumer privacy: the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Many of us hope that your principles, once implemented in legislation, will form a powerful framework to protect Americans' fundamental right to privacy. Unfortunately, the discussion draft released last Friday falls short of that promise.

We appreciate your leadership on privacy. We also appreciate that before the discussion draft was released, your administration made several changes that many privacy advocates suggested, including the maintaining of longstanding privacy protections under the Communications Act. We applaud your administration's willingness to work with us to improve the draft.

Nevertheless, substantial changes must still be made for the legislation to effectively protect Americans' right to privacy. The bill should provide individuals with more meaningful and enforceable control over the collection, use, and sharing of their personal information. The bill should uphold state privacy laws and afford stronger regulatory and enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission. In the weeks and months to come, we hope to work with you and leaders in Congress to strengthen the bill and address shortcomings in the draft legislation, including the following:

  • The bill does not adequately define what constitutes sensitive information, nor does it provide consumers with meaningful choices about this data.
  • The bill does not protect large categories of personal information. It's unclear if the bill protects geolocation data, and there are broad exceptions for business records, data "generally available to the public," and cyberthreat indicators.
  • The bill gives companies broad leeway to determine the protections that consumers will receive. Most of the bill's protections apply only if a company identifies a risk of
  • harm; other rules apply only if a company determines that certain processing is inconsistent with context.
  • The bill lets companies retain data indefinitely for investigations into certain types of crimes, without placing clear limits on data retention for that purpose.
  • The bill contains a broad exception for unreasonable uses of data that are supervised by self-regulatory privacy review boards.
  • The bill does not give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adequate resources and strong enough standards to review what could be hundreds of proposed codes of conduct and privacy review boards.
  • The main avenue for public participation is through multistakeholder processes that have, to date, brought few benefits for consumers -- and that often are dominated by industry.
  • The bill does not guarantee consumers meaningful access to and the ability to correct most sets of records held by data brokers.
  • The bill fails to improve privacy protections for information about children and teens. The Privacy Bill of Rights section does not treat information about minors as sensitive information that deserves heightened protection, in contrast to existing law and FTC policy.
  • The bill prevents private citizens and state attorneys general from taking meaningful action to protect privacy. The bill limits fines from the FTC in a way that would not deter large companies from significant privacy violations.
  • The bill preempts strong state laws (with some exceptions), including many that give citizens the ability to defend their privacy rights in court. It does this without creating new protections that are clearly better.

Our substantive concerns were compounded by the way in which this bill was developed. Most of our organizations were left out of consultations and were allowed to review the draft only one week prior to its release. Many organizations outside the Beltway were not able to review the legislation at all.

We still firmly believe that an overarching privacy law is critical to protect consumers and build trust in our digital world. We will continue to work with Congress and your administration to craft a bill that creates strong, meaningful protections for consumers. We look forward to those discussions.

Sincerely,

Alvaro Bedoya, Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law*

Center for Democracy and Technology

Center for Digital Democracy

Common Sense Media

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Watchdog

Consumers Union

Electronic Frontier Foundation

National Consumers League

New America's Open Technology Institute

Public Knowledge

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

U.S. PIRG

*Affiliation for identification purposes only.

Jim Steyer
Jim is Common Sense Media's CEO and founder -- read all about him here.