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The Kumbaya Moment

While the hearing started on shaky legs, it was apparent toward the end that there’s considerable agreement that a legal framework for personal privacy needs to be created that covers all the technical bases.

Until now, the privacy debate has focused on particular ways of obtaining preference and stressed opt-in vs. opt-out. This approach is wrong-headed, as web spiders can extract more personal information from the Internet than DPI can. So the privacy problem actually needs to focus on what happens to dossiers of personal information that ad merchants own, regardless of how the information was obtained.

The new consensus dictates that the key issues are the protection of archived information from abuse, consumer notification about what’s held by whom and how it’s used, and the ability to have archived information erased. In the course of the discussion I suggested that consumers need periodic reminders of which services are building databases on their behaviour and the ability to have them erased. This notion found favour with the committee and the other witnesses.

While Washington continues to host fanatics on both sides of the policy spectrum, the current mood is one of pragmatism and regulatory restraint. While Obama Administration figure Susan Crawford and members of Congress with close ties to Google (primarily Silicon Valley congresswomen Lofgren and Eshoo) continue to promote wild-eyed, Utopian notions of net neutrality that simply protect the search monopoly’s position, my sense is that they’re outnumbered by pragmatists who would be pleased to allow a lightly-regulated market and the public relations machinery of the public interest organizations to correct egregious practices wherever they’re found.

How long this fit of temporary sanity will persist in Washington is anyone’s guess, but for the moment there’s not much to worry about on the banks of the Potomac.®

Richard Bennett is a Silicon Valley network architect and technical consultant. He blogs at BroadbandPolitics.com

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