Friday, February 01, 2008

"Data Privacy Day": Bush Admin Launches Internet Monitoring Initiative

Monday, January 28 has been designated "Data Privacy Day" in North America and in 27 European countries in conjunction with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Google's privacy counsel Jane Horvath says the company is joining in an international privacy conference being held at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

In accordance with that appearance and Data Privacy Day, Google has added a new video to its existing series of privacy videos, plus it has developed a privacy booklet (PDF) to educate consumers and parents about online data privacy. Horvath explains:
We've also developed a privacy booklet that you can download to get an in-depth look at our privacy practices and approach, and have co-sponsored the creation of educational materials on teen online privacy for parents and educators. The goal of all these efforts is to help educate you about online data privacy so that you can make more informed choices about how you use online products and services.
Google has in the past been the subject of criticism and complaints about online privacy. And privacy is at the center of the European inquiry into the Google-DoubleClick acquisition. But Google should also be applauded for efforts to educate consumers, who generally don't understand online privacy issues.
And given that the announcement came on Data Privacy Day, it's somewhat ironic that the Bush administration is pushing a cybersecurity initiative that would greatly expand its ability to spy on American online activity and data collection. According to the Wall Street Journal:
President Bush has promised a frugal budget proposal next month, but one big-ticket item is stirring controversy: an estimated $6 billion to build a secretive system protecting U.S. communication networks from attacks by terrorists, spies and hackers . . .
Protecting private computer systems would likely require the government to install sensors on private, company networks, officials familiar with the initiative said. Amid divisiveness about other government-surveillance programs, having the government monitor Internet traffic, even in the name of national security, will be a hard sell to Congress and the public.
In addition, RFID tags and "microchips" will eventually be everywhere, allowing the government, retailers and others to closely monitor consumer behavior and activity even as this technology promises to deliver all kinds of consumer benefits.
Online privacy is becoming an increasingly critical issue for ordinary people as more daily activity shifts to the Internet and consumer behavior, health histories and financial information become subject to unprecedented levels of data collection, monitoring and potential misappropriation.

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