Commerce calls for privacy safeguards on information superhighway
WASHINGTON, D.C.–In a report entitled “Privacy and the National Information Infrastructure” issued in late October, the U.S. Department of Commerce called for personal privacy safeguards on the NII, which it says the Clinton Administration defines as “a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases and consumer electronics that will put vast amounts of information at users’ fingertips.”
The report speculates that consumers will not use the NII if they fear that personal information about them will be used in unexpected or inappropriate ways.
The report calls for the private sector to develop controls on the use of personal information that give consumers notice of how information they provide over the NII will be used and opportunity to consent to any other use of the information. It is in the private sector’s interest to develop these controls rather than to wait for formal government action, the report stated.
While the report does not acknowledge any First Amendment rights to use information gathered from the information highway, it does refer to Fair Information Principles outlined in a report issued in June by the Clinton administration’s Privacy Working Group of the Information Infrastructure Task Force.
That earlier report said that some incompatible uses of personal information “produce enormous benefits and have at most a trivial effect on the individual’s information privacy interest.” As an example, the task force referred to incompatible uses of personal information by the “investigatory press” that are “specifically protected and sanctioned” by the First Amendment.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted comments to the working group opposing suggestions that anyone who used information from the NII should be required to seek consent from a subject of a story gained before using that information. The Reporters Committee urged the working group not to impose regulatory controls on the use of information on the NII. (Privacy and the NII, U.S. Dept. of Commerce)