Minding Privacy's Past
Yesterday's U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, Minding Your Business: The Future of Privacy, brought together speakers from across the private and public sectors to engage in a discussion about upcoming privacy trends. In attendance were several high-profile companies who earlier this year voiced their support for the development of a comprehensive consumer privacy law. At the event several of these firms re-iterated their determination to see the creation of a national consumer privacy law and expressed their desire for the new Congress to put the issue high on its list when legislators return next year. Although the event focused on the future of privacy, one of the most provocative issues of the day referred to the history of privacy and law enforcement. Mike Vatis of Steptoe & Johnson LLP noted that in recent years the Federal Trade Commission, with its broad mandate to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices, has had to chart its own course in the privacy space. FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras explained how the commission has adopted its own "reasonableness" standard for determining whether companies are doing enough to protect consumers' privacy. The commission also recently proposed some new language regarding notice requirements as part of its consent agreement with adware firm Zango, Inc.. These developments show that when no law exists, the FTC standard becomes the de facto law. The FTC plays an absolutely essential role in protecting the privacy of American consumers, but it is Congress that should be in the business of defining a general privacy law. Doing so will help the FTC and so many other enforcement bodies be all the more effective.