Obama administration crafting stance on Web privacy

In the coming weeks, two government bodies will issue reports detailing recommendations for online privacy. This we’ve known: one will come from the Commerce Department, the other from the Federal Trade Commission.

Now vague word comes from the Wall Street Journal that the Commerce report will advocate legislation to clarify how much data Web companies and marketers can collect and share about Internet users. Not “specific legislation,” but the idea that self-regulation — the prevailing rule in the space — isn’t enough to protect consumers.

The Journal report uses a lot of words to say fairly little that’s new, and hedges by reminding us, “The report isn’t yet final and could change.”

Be that as it may, the White House has acknowledged that the issue warrants attention, with President Obama just last month forming a subcommittee on Internet privacy under the National Science and Technology Council, with a mandate that includes working with Congress to draft legislation.

Of course, as the Journal reminds us, working with Congress once the new Republican majority takes over in January won’t necessarily be easy for the White House, even on an issue like online privacy, which has historically drawn bipartisan support. But empowering the Federal Trade Commission with a broader enforcement mandate, as has been proposed in the past (and shot down by Republicans), is unlikely to win GOP support.

Meantime, the FTC has its own report coming out, which is widely expected to propose the notion of a “do-not-track” opt-out mechanism for consumers, patterned after the “do-not-call” restrictions on telemarketers.

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