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FTC seeks band-aid solution for protection of consumer privacy

Friday, April 06, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: consumer privacy, FTC, protections

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(NaturalNews) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal government's chief consumer protection agency, has the right idea in wanting to crack down on the invasion of our privacy by companies who buy and sell our personal information, but the approach it has chosen to address the problem is more of a band-aid than a fix.

The agency last month called on Congress to enact new measures regulating data brokers - private firms that gather and trade a wide array of personal and financial information about tens of millions of American consumers, from both online and offline sources.

But rather than prevent the collection of that information in the first place without your permission, the FTC is only seeking legislation that "would give consumers access to information collected about them and allow them to correct and update such data," The New York Times reported.

Granted, the agency has also issued a warning to data miners at technology and advertising companies (Google and Facebook come to mind) to voluntarily provide a satisfactory Do Not Track option for consumers and users; it would support additional legislation that would force such companies to comply. What happens with your personal information between now and then, however, is anyone's guess, but if history is a guide, count on your personal Web-surfing and shopping habits to continue to be tracked.

'Recommending' your rights be guaranteed

As is usual for a government agency, the FTC has complied a thick new volume of proposed new "guidelines" aimed at getting data miners to, essentially, put themselves out of business voluntarily.

Titled Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change, these guidelines purport to accomplish what the Constitution's Fourth Amendment was supposed to guarantee: protection of personal privacy. In announcing the publication, FTC described it as "a final report setting forth best practices for businesses to protect the privacy of American consumers and give them greater control over the collection and use of their personal data."

"If companies adopt our final recommendations for best practices - and many of them already have - they will be able to innovate and deliver creative new services that consumers can enjoy without sacrificing their privacy," said the agency's chairman, Jon Leibowitz. "We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don't."

The agency is recommending "Congress consider enacting general privacy legislation, data security and breach notification legislation, and data broker legislation," according to the FTC Web site.

Your personal information - just another commodity

On the one side there are the data miners - Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Experian and Acxiom - which blatantly mine and sell personal information as though they have a natural right to it. On the other side, of course, are groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Privacy Information Center and publications like NaturalNews who think the Constitution's privacy protections are inviolable.

"The government's Do Not Track efforts are likely to collide with the desire of companies to continue the lucrative business of collecting, using and sharing information about the people who use their services," The New York Times reported. "Although these businesses say they support limits on using this information, they generally still want to be able to collect it."

There is much wrong with this picture, but a couple of basic premises come immediately to mind.

First, it's an abomination that the Constitution isn't already protecting consumers from having their personal information mined and sold like a commodity. That is, of course, what the letter and spirit of the Fourth Amendment was supposed to achieve.

Second, it's not the role of a federal agency to "recommend" that the nation's elected leaders protect essential rights and liberties. It's the role of Congress and the president, along with the federal judiciary, to ensure that such protections not only remain in place but are enforced. Anything that accomplishes less is not a solution at all but a constitutional cop-out.

American consumers should not - via federal agency or any other entity - have to beg for their rights to be protected. But that's become the accepted norm; after decades of unchallenged federal overreach, Americans have been conditioned to think our basic Bill of Rights are subject to the definition and approval of those who mean to rule us rather than automatic guarantees of liberty and freedom.

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