An Inside Look at the FTC's Final "Exploring Privacy" Roundtable
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On March 17, 2010, the Federal Trade Commission convened the last of its three-part series of roundtable discussions entitled “Exploring Privacy.”  In her opening remarks, outgoing Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour emphasized the critical importance of privacy to consumers, stating that “consumer privacy cannot be run in beta,” and that companies often inappropriately expose consumer data during new product rollout.  David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, then set the stage by invoking the “notice is broken” theme that recurred during the first two roundtables on December 7, 2009, and January 28, 2010, and was echoed by participants in the March 17 event.

The first three panels of the day described the emerging environment for information and the privacy protection issues raised by a rapidly changing data ecosystem.  The opening session on internet architecture focused closely on the security issues inherent in current architecture and the privacy questions that must be addressed as the infrastructure evolves in response to security concerns.  The second panel discussed health information and the complex concerns raised by using genomic data for medical research.  In the third segment, panelists grappled with the perennial question of what constitutes sensitive information, and considered the extent to which that characterization of data is a useful differentiator for purposes of data governance.

The final panel, “Lessons Learned and Looking Forward,” which included the Centre for Information Policy Leadership's Fred Cate, asked participants to consider the findings of all three roundtables and to offer solutions to privacy questions raised in those discussions.  The panelists proposed possible new approaches to privacy protections and, when asked, gave suggestions about what the FTC should do next.  Comments reflected the need for fresh thinking about new models of protection, and cautioned the FTC against reverting to traditional models of notice and choice that have proven limited in their usefulness.

FTC staff has committed to a thorough review of the proceedings and the public comments submitted in conjunction with the three roundtables.  The FTC noted that any document issuing from the roundtable series likely will be made available for public comment, providing an additional opportunity for interested parties to weigh in.


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