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Commerce Official Says Online Consumer Privacy is Critical to a Strong Digital Economy

Both industry and public interest groups agree that online consumer privacy should be strengthened, said Daniel Weitzner, NTIA’s Associate Administrator for Policy. Speaking in Washington D.C. today, Weitzner said that public response to the Commerce Department’s inquiry into online privacy underscores the need to bolster privacy in a manner that continues to ensure the Web remains a platform for innovation, jobs, and economic growth.

Weitzner said that the Commerce Department’s decision to address online privacy and other Internet policy issues stems from the significant and growing social and economic contributions that the Internet makes to our lives. For example, domestic online transactions are currently estimated to total $3.5 trillion annually, and digital commerce is a leading source of job growth.  “Preserving consumer trust is essential to the sustainability and continued growth of the digital economy,” said  Weitzner.

Based on stakeholder feedback gained through the Commerce Department’s inquiry, Weitzner outlined an approach that can promote innovation while increasing consumer trust, including committing to baseline privacy principles and convening stakeholders to develop voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct to implement those principles.

“We realize that government is not going to have all the answers,” Weitzner said. “A multi-stakeholder strategy…will be critical to ensure that we end up with a framework that is rational and provides businesses with clear markers about how to meet their obligations, but is also dynamic to keep information practices in line with consumer expectations as technologies and markets evolve.”

Weitzner noted that the Commerce Department will soon publish privacy policy recommendations in a “green paper” and seek further public comment. He also said that current privacy challenges, such as the use of personal information to deliver targeted advertising, and the ongoing discussions of “Do Not Track” proposals, illustrate the need for a more dynamic privacy framework.

Daniel Weitzner's complete speech.

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