Obama's man on internet privacy makes his case
ONE OF the US government’s leading voices on data privacy, US general counsel of the department of commerce Cameron Kerry, foresees a set of international standards akin to ISO certifications as the way forward for web governance, something he says suits the “iterative basis” of technology. Legislation “doesn’t freeze technology”, he argues.
Kerry, who co-chaired the committee which formed the Obama administration’s blueprint for privacy, was in Ireland this week on a day-long visit that involved a speech at the Institute of International and European Affairs and meetings with Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes and Department of Justice officials.
Appointed to his role in April 2009 by President Obama, he says that while he doesn’t see data privacy becoming a focal point for the election he says it has become a mainstream consumer issue.
“Everybody uses the internet, everyone knows when they go to the store or in other situations that they are providing information about themselves, and some people wonder what exactly is happening with that information.
“That’s part of a market dysfunction that needs to be addressed. That you have one set of players in the marketplace that know and others don’t. That’s an uneven marketplace, and we need to level that playing field for consumers and companies.”
Describing the US approach, Kerry said: “President Obama made a very strong statement that privacy is embedded in American values, in our legal system: it’s in our constitution, it’s in laws that protect different sectors, it’s in the system of enforcement.”
In Europe proposals currently under discussion will see the various national data authorities of the member states become a “one-stop-shop” for any data queries by consumers or companies, rather than current directives that force businesses to deal across borders with numerous jurisdictions to solve issues of data conflict.
It’s these proposals that bring Kerry to Europe to promote interoperability between the various systems when it comes to data privacy directives.
He sees data privacy as one of the “important priorities” of Ireland’s upcoming presidency of the EU.
The Harvard-educated lawyer turned legislator said: “The trade between the US and the European Union is the largest trade-post in the world, and Ireland is number one destination for US foreign direct investment in information technology.
“So how the flow of data across borders works is enormously important to our economies.”
The US, he said, was trying to base its data privacy regulations on “the systems of governance that have been so successful in the internet”.
These, he says, “are not the providence of any one government but a multi-stakeholder, multi-national encompassing civil society”.
In terms of tackling cybercrime’s borderless nature, he says that online data provides “new forms of evidence”.
“In a global network where information used or stolen by criminals travels across borders, law enforcement co-operation is extremely important.”
It’s on this point that he says aspects of European directives must be careful not to “diminish co-operation between governments outside the EU, or diminish the ability of private actors to share information with the government”.
Kerry says that forming legislation and codes of conduct in this area has inevitably involved input from some of the larger internet companies based in the US, the companies who hoard our data - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
Kerry says: “I think government regulators, legislators, policy-makers need to be humble about their ability to understand and manage and regulate technology. It moves faster than almost all of us can understand.’’
Kerry says: “There was a time when internet entrepreneurs and people in Silicon Valley thought they didnt need the government and could just do their own thing with as little to do with the government as possible. I think that time has long since passed.’’