The National Security Agency may be collecting data on millions of Americans, but the Obama administration wants you to know that lots of private companies do the same thing.
“On Facebook, there are some 350 million photos uploaded and shared every day. On YouTube, 100 hours of video is uploaded every minute,” John Podesta, a top adviser to President Obama, said Monday during a conference at MIT. “And we are only in the very nascent stage of the ‘Internet of Things,’ where our appliances will communicate with each other and sensors may be nearly ubiquitous.”
Podesta is leading a working group that will soon present a report to the president on the privacy issues surrounding “big data” — the collection and storage of massive amounts of personal information. Obama announced the working group in January in the same speech where he outlined reforms to the NSA’s controversial surveillance programs.
A variety of technological advances have meant that we leave an electronic trail for almost everything we do — including the people we contact, the websites we visit, and even our physical location. The implicit message from the White House is that while there may be legitimate privacy concerns related to the government’s access to that information, private companies should also face scrutiny.
In his speech at MIT, Podesta argued that the collection of massive amounts of data can lead to powerful innovations in areas such as health care, education, and public safety. Companies and the government can better analyze diseases or traffic congestion, for example. But he argued there must also be adequate privacy safeguards.
“We also recognize that ensuring the continued strength of the Internet requires applying our timeless privacy values to these new technologies, as we have throughout our history with each new mode of communication from the mail to the telephone to the social network,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who also spoke at the Massachusetts event, argued that privacy protections are necessary for building trust in Internet services, which is ultimately necessary for economic growth.
“All of the data in the world is worthless unless consumers trust the companies they buy from, unless citizens trust their governments, and unless institutions of all kinds trust each other to play by the rules,” she said.
Pritzker touted the administration’s efforts to improve online privacy protection. The Commerce Department, for example, organized talks between industry groups and privacy advocates to develop a voluntary code of conduct for privacy disclosures on mobile apps. The administration is also now working to implement guidelines to improve the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure providers, such as phone companies and banks.
In 2012, the White House announced a “privacy bill of rights” — a set of principles for how companies should handle consumer information. The White House urged Congress to enact the principles into law, but the issue hasn’t moved on Capitol Hill.
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Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."
President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.
The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."
Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."