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Remarks of Deputy Assistant Secretary Gomez at the Safe Internet Alliance Privacy Workshop

Remarks by Anna Gomez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Safe Internet Alliance Privacy Workshop on "Safer by Design: Policies and Principles"
Washington, D.C.
September 29, 2010

– As Prepared for Delivery –

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to with you all today.  At NTIA, we’re committed to developing a privacy framework that provides a baseline of trust that can extend across a wide range of information types and intensive use of data, that enables innovation, and that scales to the global reach of the Internet.  Any framework must provide four guarantees – first, a consistent level of privacy protection for global web users; second, flexible, timely mechanisms to build privacy norms in dynamic new information environments; third, support the fundamental democratic and constitutional values upon which privacy is based; and fourth, benefit the U.S. economy and international trade through streamlining domestic and global privacy regulations. 

NTIA is working to develop such a framework that will protect individual privacy while ensuring that technology, policy, and market forces continue to allow for the rapid innovation we have come to see with the Internet.  The right privacy policies can help alleviate user concerns and allow for increased broadband adoption and usage, which is essential to participate in today’s employment and educational opportunities. 

The right privacy policies are also absolutely vital to keep the information economy and all of America growing strong.  With the explosive growth of the Internet, which has become central to our economic and social life, the privacy concerns that the Commerce Department (and particularly NTIA) began exploring in 1995 have grown more and more complex.

Here’s the crux of the issue: On one hand it’s clear that intensive use of personal information can fuel the development of new Internet products and services.  On the other hand, we know that if consumers do not trust that information about them will be kept secure and used appropriately, they’ll be reluctant to use new services.  All of this that we must ensure that any steps we take to protect privacy will also be flexible and allow innovation to continue.

Let me tell you three ways that the Commerce Department and NTIA are taking up this challenge.

First, privacy is one of the four main focus areas of a department-wide Internet Policy Task Force, which is conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. Internet policy.   The other three are cybersecurity, online copyright, and the global free flow of information.  Throughout the year, the Task Force has been listening to a wide range of stakeholders to learn what issues they face in the privacy arena. 

In the spring, we issued a Notice of Inquiry and held a symposium to explore a range of issues such as industry self-regulatory efforts, state-level privacy laws, and international business implications of a U.S. privacy law regime.  We’re taking what we’ve learned and preparing a report that will offer policy options to make privacy law more compatible with the Internet economy.  This report will provide a roadmap for Internet stakeholders to step up engagement on privacy questions in order to achieve a more robust, innovative and privacy respecting Internet environment.  We believe that the best path towards these goals is through the unique multi-stakeholder engagement that has given rise to the Internet and is the basis of its continued growth.  This approach can only work with the active engagement of private sector stakeholders, particularly the commercial sector.

Second, the Commerce Department—and NTIA in particular—have been deeply involved in promoting the adoption of broadband Internet services.  As we fulfill the important national objective of bringing broadband to more and more Americans we want to make sure that privacy protections develop to support consumer trust as high-speed Internet connections become integral to daily life.  We will continue to use our survey research capabilities to understand how broadband adopters and non-adopters view online privacy, in addition to a host of other online issues.

Finally, to go from these broad commercial data privacy issues to a more specific area, NTIA has been leading a comprehensive examination of child online safety policy.  Social networking sites and mobile phones have given teenagers an unprecedented ability to form and maintain social bonds, but we have to acknowledge that these can also put children and adolescents at risk.  To better understand what works—and what doesn’t work—to protect children, NTIA created the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG).  OSTWG brought together experts from state and federal governments, industry, and civil society to find out what risks young people face online and what tools and approaches are available to reduce these risks.  This summer, OSTWG reported that there are no silver bullets to child safety concerns, but there are a number of things that parents, industry, and the government can improve online safety.  Specifically, a layered approach that combines technological tools, parental education, and the development of industry best practices are among the ways to protect children from online harms in this dynamic environment.  The White House Science and Technology Committee’s Broadband Subcommittee has created a working group, co-chaired by NTIA, the DOJ, and the Department of Education, which is coordinating across government to advance the OSTWG’s recommendations.

To conclude, the Commerce Department is using a broad range of tools to preserve trust in the Internet.  Going forward, we will continue to view privacy issues as central to broadband adoption challenges that we face, and we encourage a multi-stakeholder approach toward the creation of privacy protections. There will be opportunities for you all to inform us on privacy and other issues that are central to trust on the Internet.  We look forward to the dialogue. Thank you again for your time.