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In this issue

Take Back Your Privacy with CDT

Tech Policy Outside the Beltway

Berkeley, CA — On the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, the Federal Trade Commission holds a public roundtable on consumer privacy, January 28.


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[Editor's Note: Tech Policy Download will be taking a hiatus. Our next issue will be published on Jan. 12, 2010.]

A contentious healthcare debate has kept the 2009 Congressional session grinding on longer than usual, but most of the action on tech policy wrapped up earlier this month, including the House passage of data breach legislation and the launch of the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.

Congress Moves on Federal Breach Notice Law, with Data Broker Provisions

Led by California, most states have adopted laws requiring companies to notify consumers when their data is lost or stolen. However, except for medical records, there is no federal “breach notification” law. On December 8, the U.S. House of Representatives took a step towards closing this gap – and possibly bringing some uniformity to breach notice requirements -- when it passed a measure that requires companies to inform customers when their personal data is compromised by a data breach. More importantly, the legislation also gives consumers greater ability to review – and in some cases change – the information that data brokers collect and store about them.

The bill isn’t a substitute for a comprehensive federal privacy law, but it’s not a bad start. In the Senate, a related bill, Chairman Leahy's S. 1490, has been reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Legislating File Sharing - Devil in the Details

Another bill approved by the House earlier this month highlights the challenge that lawmakers face when they attempt to address specific technologies. In an effort to protect consumers against inadvertently sharing their files, H.R. 1319 would require software makers and others to disclose the file-sharing functions of their products. The essential goal of the legislation is right on: informed users are empowered users. But because file sharing is a core feature of so many Internet technologies (Web browsers, Web servers, security software etc.), CDT and others were concerned that the legislation could trigger a landslide of ill-fitting notifications that did more to confuse users than to educate them. Heeding CDT’s warnings, the final legislation addresses most of those concerns by explicitly excluding certain key functions and technologies, though there remains some question as to whether legislation could inadvertently cover Internet cookies. If the Senate decides to take up the measure, it will be critical to nail down the details so that the bill genuinely protects consumers without confusing them or saddling software innovators with inapt and superfluous regulatory obligations.

Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant

The federal government may be on its way to becoming a lot more transparent, accountable, and accessible to citizens thanks to the White House’s Open Government Initiative. For more than a decade, CDT and other advocates have urged the government to take full advantage of the Internet by making important government data and services available online. While some progress has been made, the Open Government Directive announced on December 9 should speed the process. The Directive is built around the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration and sets deadlines for important milestones. Among other things, it asks agencies to proactively publish data online in open formats to facilitate re-use of data. Agencies will be creating and implementing their Open Government Plans over the next few months.

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