Obama Calls on Congress to Pass Data Privacy Laws

The president urged lawmakers to pass laws to combat hacking and protect student privacy.

National Journal
Jan. 12, 2015, 4:33 a.m.

In the wake of the massive breaches of Tar­get, Home De­pot, and Sony, Pres­id­ent Obama urged Con­gress on Monday to pass a series of cy­ber­se­cur­ity and pri­vacy bills.

“This is a dir­ect threat to the eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity of Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies, and we’ve got to stop it,” Obama said in a speech at the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion. “If we’re go­ing to be con­nec­ted, then we need to be pro­tec­ted. As Amer­ic­ans, we shouldn’t have to for­feit our ba­sic pri­vacy when we go on­line to do our busi­ness.”

The pres­id­ent pro­posed the Per­son­al Data No­ti­fic­a­tion and Pro­tec­tion Act, which would re­quire com­pan­ies to no­ti­fy their cus­tom­ers with­in 30 days if their per­son­al in­form­a­tion has been ex­posed. The bill quickly earned ap­plause from busi­ness groups, who would prefer to com­ply with a single na­tion­al no­ti­fic­a­tion stand­ard rather than the cur­rent patch­work of state laws.

The bill would help con­sumers know their cred­it card has been stolen be­fore the hack­ers are able to use it, Obama said.

He also out­lined a new bill, the Stu­dent Di­git­al Pri­vacy Act, to re­strict the abil­ity of com­pan­ies to mine the data of chil­dren. The meas­ure, which is based on a Cali­for­nia law, would pre­vent com­pan­ies from selling stu­dent data to third parties for non-edu­ca­tion­al pur­poses or from tar­get­ing ad­vert­ising to stu­dents based on data col­lec­ted in schools.

Tech­no­logy can al­low for ex­cit­ing new edu­ca­tion­al tools, Obama said, but com­pan­ies should not ab­use their ac­cess to sens­it­ive aca­dem­ic in­form­a­tion of stu­dents.

“We’ve already seen some in­stances where some com­pan­ies use edu­ca­tion­al tech­no­lo­gies to col­lect stu­dent data for com­mer­cial pur­poses, like tar­geted ad­vert­ising,” Obama said. “And par­ents have a le­git­im­ate con­cern about those kinds of prac­tices.”

Jim Stey­er, the CEO of chil­dren’s ad­vocacy group Com­mon Sense Me­dia, said he is “thrilled” with the stu­dent pri­vacy bill. Stu­dents, he said, “de­serve the op­por­tun­ity to use edu­ca­tion­al web­sites and apps to en­rich their learn­ing without fear that their per­son­al in­form­a­tion will be ex­ploited for com­mer­cial pur­poses or fall in­to the wrong hands.”

The pres­id­ent also re­newed his push for a sweep­ing Con­sumer Pri­vacy Bill of Rights. With­in 45 days, the White House plans to re­lease le­gis­lat­ive lan­guage to en­shrine the prin­ciples in­to law.

The White House first out­lined the on­line pri­vacy rights in 2012 and urged Con­gress to take up the is­sue. But there has been little move­ment on the Hill, and no le­gis­la­tion has been in­tro­duced.

Marc Ro­ten­berg, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Elec­tron­ic Pri­vacy In­form­a­tion Cen­ter, said he sup­ports the pres­id­ent’s bills on stu­dent and con­sumer pri­vacy, but he has some con­cerns with the data-breach no­ti­fic­a­tion bill. “It would pree­mpt stronger state laws, and it lacks a private right of ac­tion,” he ex­plained.

Some pri­vacy ad­voc­ates noted that Obama’s pro­pos­als won’t ad­dress an­oth­er crit­ic­al pri­vacy is­sue: the gov­ern­ment’s ac­cess to in­form­a­tion.

“We’re still wait­ing for re­form on NSA and the Elec­tron­ic Com­mu­nic­a­tion Pri­vacy Act after years of in­tense ef­fort and the cre­ation of a very broad co­ali­tion of sup­port,” said Justin Brook­man of the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy.

In ad­di­tion to the le­gis­lat­ive pro­pos­als, Obama also an­nounced sev­er­al steps he is tak­ing on his own to bol­ster pri­vacy pro­tec­tions. The White House se­cured com­mit­ments from 75 com­pan­ies, in­clud­ing Apple and Mi­crosoft, to provide pri­vacy pro­tec­tions to stu­dents, teach­ers, and par­ents. The En­ergy De­part­ment re­leased new vol­un­tary guidelines for util­it­ies to pro­tect con­sumer elec­tri­city data.

JP­Mor­gan­Chase, Bank of Amer­ica, USAA, and the State Em­ploy­ees’ Cred­it Uni­on agreed to provide free cred­it scores to their mem­bers. “This means that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­an adults will have free ac­cess to their cred­it score, which is like an early warn­ing sys­tem telling you’ve been hit by fraud so you can deal with it fast,” Obama said.

The an­nounce­ments were all part of a series of pre­views of Obama’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress, which he will de­liv­er next week.

The pres­id­ent will make more an­nounce­ments later this week about his plans for cy­ber­se­cur­ity and In­ter­net ac­cess. On Tues­day, he will travel to the Na­tion­al Cy­ber­se­cur­ity and Com­mu­nic­a­tions In­teg­ra­tion Cen­ter to tout ef­forts to in­crease vol­un­tary cy­ber­se­cur­ity in­form­a­tion-shar­ing between the private sec­tor and the gov­ern­ment.

On Wed­nes­day, the pres­id­ent will go to Iowa, where he will an­nounce a plan to in­crease af­ford­able ac­cess to broad­band. On Thursday, Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden will travel to Nor­folk, Va., to an­nounce new fund­ing to train Amer­ic­ans for cy­ber­se­cur­ity jobs.

—This art­icle was up­dated at 1:32 p.m.

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