Remarks by Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta

Online Privacy Technologies Workshop and Technology Fair

September 19, 2000

Washington, D.C.

[As Prepared For Delivery]

Thank you Greg [Rohde]. Good morning everyone and welcome. This is a very impressive turn-out, and I would like to thank all of you for coming. 

Two years ago, when we held a privacy summit, a poll was released that said more than 80 percent of Americans were concerned about threats to their privacy when they were on line.

Unfortunately, according to recent reports, the numbers haven't changed.

A Pew study shows that over 86 percent of Internet users are still concerned about businesses or people they don't know getting access to their personal information.

What has changed, though, is this: the way industry is responding to these concerns and the new technologies available to protect online privacy. That's what we are here to explore today.

In 1997, when a fraction of today's web population was on line, President Clinton and Vice President Gore issued their policy framework on e-commerce. They understood that, if e-commerce were to succeed, it would be under private sector leadership.

It was the government's role to foster an environment to promote e-commerce and to work with the private sector to ensure that the Internet could grow world-wide.

Since then, the Internet has flourished. Technology has dramatically lowered costs. More and more people and businesses are online. And e-commerce is projected to climb into the trillions of dollars over the next several years. 

We want this good news to continue. The Internet has been a central part of the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history. 

But we don't think this growth will continue unless both consumers and businesses are confident about their experiences on the Net. So, we see privacy as a make-or-break issue. 

The Administration is committed to protecting privacy. We have supported legislation to protect children and sensitive financial, medical and genetic information. 

And we've worked closely with the private sector to implement meaningful, self-regulatory privacy regimes. 

There has been progress. The FTC found that 88 percent of Internet sites now have some form of disclosure. We now have several third party seal organizations that certify a web site is complying with its privacy policy. 

And a number of major companies worked with my predecessor Bill Daley to prompt other companies to adopt and disclose good privacy policies. These companies used their market leverage by withholding advertising from web sites that failed this test.

But, it is a long road we are travelling. And, it seems to me, much work remains to be done. In the FTC survey, only 20 percent of Internet sites had policies that tracked fair information practices.

Clearly we have a challenge, which I think can best be met if we all work together -- government, industry and consumers.

One, we need to be sure that all content providers satisfy the Fair Information Principles. 

Among other things, they must provide Internet users information about who is collecting their personal data, how it will be used, and how its disclosure will be limited. 

Two, we need to empower consumers so that they can make informed choices about data collection. Internet users should have a choice about whether to share information and whom they want to share it with. 

Three, consumers need to have reasonable access to information collected about them and an effective means of recourse.

And, finally, we are here today to let consumers know what tools are available to protect their data. 

Industry is doing a good job in developing privacy enhancing technologies, but the word hasn't gotten out to the consumer. Reports show only one in 20 Internet users have used software that hides their computer identity from web sites. 

Only ten percent of all users have set their browsers to reject cookies. 

There are now a number of privacy enhancing technologies on the market or in the final stages of development. Many incorporate the Platform for Privacy Preferences. This allows users to determine if a web site meets their privacy preferences.

Let me say here we are committed to making our Commerce Department web site compliant with these standards.

Online privacy is a critical issue for Internet users -- one we all have to address if the extraordinary potential of this technology is to be fully realized in the 21st century.

So, we have invited you here today to put a spotlight on privacy-enhancing technologies and what their capabilities are -- and to learn from you what might stand in the way of their further deployment and use. 

Tomorrow, on Capitol Hill, Senator Hatch and The Internet Caucus will be hosting similar demonstrations to further highlight this issue.

Let me close by saying thank you very, very much for your time and your participation. 

I look forward to your comments and recommendations on how we can enhance privacy online and make the Internet a more secure place to visit.

Thank you.