Analysis: Kerry and McCain’s Web privacy bill won’t do much

Posted by David Gomez

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have drafted a bill that won’t do much to give us privacy on the Internet.

We covered the two Senator’s efforts last week, and to the casual observer it seems like the two politicians are stepping in to protect Internet users’ privacy. The only problem is that the bill doesn’t put any limits on how long your information can be stored.
    
It also doesn’t place any limits on what can be done with your data once an online company obtains it. And to privacy advocates, that basically defeats the whole purpose.
    
Advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times have made sure to let the Senators know that they do not support the bill in its current form. They wrote a letter to Kerry and McCain letting them know why their bill doesn’t go far enough to protect Internet users’ privacy.
    
Here’s an excerpt from the letter courtesy of the Center for Digital Democracy’s website:
    
“We are writing to commend you for offering a bill that addresses the vital issue of consumer privacy online.  Protecting consumers’ privacy rights should transcend politics and we thank you for exercising leadership and seeking to deal with this challenge in a bipartisan way. But we must also express our concern that your Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act needs to be significantly strengthened if it is to effectively protect consumer privacy rights in today’s digital marketplace.  Consumers need strong baseline safeguards to protect them from the sophisticated data profiling and targeting practices that are now rampant online and with mobile devices. We cannot support the bill at this time.”
    
Kerry and McCain’s Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act is public gesture which is designed to make it look like the government cares about your privacy. Those who know anything about the government’s technology policies should know that the government is not committed to giving you digital privacy.
    
If the government cared about letting you have privacy on the Web then Kerry and McCain’s bill would be a lot stronger than it is. Maybe they were hoping that people wouldn’t notice how much protection it actually lacks?
    
The bill does not address the Federal Trade Commission’s need to institute a “Do Not Track Me” mechanism. And if this bill doesn’t actually stop people’s movements online from being tracked, then it’s just more posturing and preening from our elected officials.
    
Marketers and the government will still be able to assemble digital files on the Internet activity of the very people that this bill is supposed to protect. If you can still be tracked online, then you are not going to be protected from anything.
    
People are starting to catch on to the fact that the Internet is a breeding ground for surveillance and information gathering. This bill was an attempt by two well-known politicians to make it look like the government truly cares about how your information is used online.
    
A few things need to be addressed before this bill is even worth the paper it’s printed on. A "Do Not Track Me" component needs to be added and the collection of information dossiers needs to be addressed as well.
    
If these things are not put into the bill then it might as well not even exist. It is obvious that Kerry and McCain either do not understand the important details of Web privacy, or they simply don’t care.

Would it surprise you if they didn’t care about your privacy as much as they say they do?