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Say what you mean and mean what you say
By Scott Bradner
I have pushed quite hard for the US government to pass some meaningful laws to protect the privacy of Internet users. Some readers have challenged me to describe any laws that could do anything useful. I'll give it a try. I think there are three principals: tell me clearly what you are going to do with my data, don’t change your mind and don’t use data from other sources without my agreement.
There are certainly problems with a local government such as the US defining laws to regulate the very international Internet but the US government can regulate how US companies obtain and use information. The government can do this but I'm not sure it should do the latter. I do not think that it is productive for any government to say what information can be used in what ways because the speed of change in the Internet landscape. But I do think that some basic laws would help a lot.
Law number two: The web site's policies can not be changed to invade privacy in any additional way without clear notice and without discarding all information obtained under the previous policy. A site should have the option to ask individual users for their permission to retain the information about them but must not retain information without specific individual approvals.
Law number 3: No company doing business in the US may use any data from web sites that was not collected following the restrictions in the above laws.
Basically, I think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves what level of privacy they are willing to give up but they should be able to be sure that the companies, at least the US ones, that they are dealing with will not lie to them. The European sites are already under far stricter rules than I ever expect to see in the US.
Some observers claim that the FCC already has the needed laws - empirical evidence shows this not to be the case. Lets get this problem behind us once and for all.
disclaimer: Empirically Harvard reputation is subjective but the University has not expressed an opinion on web privacy thus the above laws are my suggestion.