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10/25/2010
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White House Unveils Internet Privacy Committee

Technology council subcommittee will work with federal agencies and lawmakers to balance consumer protection with economic opportunity.

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The White House council on technology has formed a new subcommittee to develop principles that will attempt to balance the Internet's economic opportunity with people's right to privacy.

The National Science and Technology Council's new Subcommittee on Privacy and Internet Policy also will aim to synchronize the practices of federal agencies with policy being considered and developed by lawmakers, according to a White House blog post unveiling the committee. The post is attributed to Cameron Kerry, general counsel at the Department of Commerce, and Christopher Schroeder, assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, the chairs of the new subcommittee.

The subcommittee will try to develop a common Internet privacy strategy among all of the legislative and regulatory stakeholders, both in the United States and abroad, Kerry and Schroeder wrote.

"In this digital age, a thriving and dynamic economy requires Internet policies that promote innovation domestically and globally while ensuring strong and sensible protections of individuals' private information and the ability of governments to meet their obligations to protect public safety," they said.

Specifically, the subcommittee is charged with keeping an eye on global privacy challenges and coming up with ways to meet them, and fostering cooperation between the United States and other countries to develop policies to handle issues that arise.

It also will work with the private sector to balance the needs of those doing business on the Internet with any privacy principles or policies that are developed, as well as any enforcement activity necessary to maintain them.

Core principles the committee will base its work on include: facilitating transparency, promoting cooperation, empowering people to make informed and intelligent choices, strengthening multi-stakeholder governance models, and building trust in online environments, according to the post.

Internet privacy has become a growing concern as more and more transactions and personal exchanges are made over the web. However, so far no comprehensive policy has been developed in the United States to cover consumer privacy, and decisions about it tend to be made in the courts on a case-by-case basis.

Privacy gaffes by Internet companies resulting in the release of personal information also have lawmakers wondering how to handle the issue. A Senate subcommittee grilled executives of Google, Apple, and Facebook about their questionable privacy practices.

The subcommittee is comprised of representatives from various federal departments and executive-level agencies. They include, among others: the Departments of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, Transportation, and Treasury; the Small Business Administration; the Domestic Policy Council; National Economic Council; National Security Council; the Office of Management and Budget; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; the Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator; and the National Security Staff Cybersecurity Directorate.

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