| WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, April 29
WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, April 29 The White
House will lay out ideas this week for protecting U.S.
consumers' privacy in an era in which the ubiquitous use of
computers and mobile phones provides a constant data feed on
But after a 90-day review of "big data," the White House is
expected to suggest ways to encourage companies to protect
privacy and identify areas for further study, rather than
calling for a legislative overhaul.
The Obama administration is treading carefully to avoid
further antagonizing major technology companies and
international allies angered by the government's data
The review was led by John Podesta, senior counselor to
President Barack Obama, who previously worked on tech privacy
issues as a Capitol Hill staffer and as an aide to President
Podesta already has made clear that he is concerned
technology could be used to discriminate against people for
housing, credit, jobs, health and education.
But he has explicitly called his review a "scoping exercise"
to look broadly at issues, not to develop detailed policies.
"The tech sector is probably the crown jewel of growing the
economy in America right now. And it was clear he did not want
the government to do anything to damage that needlessly," said
Dick O'Brien, head of government relations for the American
Association of Advertising Agencies and who was part of a
meeting Podesta held with the advertising industry at the White
House in March.
"We walked out with the feeling that he was there to learn,"
O'Brien said. "He has no ax to grind, as far as we could see."
Still, Podesta must offer concrete ideas, or he will face
heat for just producing a "book report," said Max Everett, a
consultant on cybersecurity and risk management issues who was
chief information officer for Republican President George W.
"They don't need to have conclusions right now -- they just
need to know which way to go," Everett said.
The review on big data was sparked by the revelations of
ex-spy contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked information about
the National Security Agency's data collection programs.
The backlash created a major political headache for Obama at
home and abroad. Obama has taken steps to rein in the NSA, but
he also sought to broaden the conversation about big data by
ordering the review, pointing out that private companies and
academics use the same kinds of information and techniques.
With electronic devices increasingly connected to the
internet, consumers are leaving more and more digital footprints
that can be collected and analyzed, as they share location data
through their phones and post personal information on social
For instance, smart thermostats, such as the Nest devices,
recently acquired by Google, keep track of when a person is
home, and fitness bracelets monitor biometric data such as heart
With the Podesta report, the White House will seek to
reframe concerns about data and privacy while showing that it
takes the issue seriously and wants to do something about it.
Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the White House, said the
report will "capture the key technological changes of relevance
to our government and the future of privacy in America," and
look for ways to minimize risks to privacy.
COMPLAINTS FROM TECH
After Snowden's leaks, technology companies like Facebook
, Google and Yahoo criticized the
government for raising privacy fears at home and abroad, which
they said hurt their businesses.
European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
whose cell phone had been monitored by the NSA, vowed to push
for tougher data rules in Europe. Merkel will visit Obama at the
White House on Friday.
"Part of having privacy be a policy agenda led by the White
House is a way to show Europe that privacy is important to the
administration," said a privacy officer from a technology
company, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
While U.S. internet companies have pushed Obama to reform
government surveillance, they argue that no wholesale change is
needed for rules on the collection and use of commercial data.
If the White House were to call for an overhaul of
commercial rules, that would imply U.S. rules are too weak and
could fuel arguments abroad for data trade restrictions.
Even if the White House wanted to pursue legislation, such
as codifying the "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" it drafted in
2012, it would need cooperation from Congress. That is unlikely
to happen ahead of the November midterm elections.
Podesta has said he thinks updates are needed for the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a statute governing
internet communications which he helped draft in 1984.
Both privacy groups and tech companies have called for that
legislation to require government agencies like the Securities
and Exchange Commission to be required to get warrants before
accessing the email of people under investigation. A bipartisan
bill to do that has stalled on Capitol Hill.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by
Caren Bohan and Leslie Adler)