Post-NSA Leaks, Privacy in a Different Light at Washington Post Forum

wapodigitalprivacyThis week Washington has been abuzz with talk about PRISM and the NSA. In the midst of all this, DMA’s Senior Vice President of Governments Affairs, Jerry Cerasale, participated in a forum about online privacy hosted by Washington Post Live yesterday. Coincidence? Actually, yes.  But the week’s news of NSA snooping certainly put this conversation about privacy in a different light.

Jerry Cerasale sat on the first panel of the morning, called “Online Privacy: Latest Issues and Consumer Concerns,” which began with a discussion of the elephant in the room.  Peter Swire of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) wondered how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), has the power to track totally domestic communications.  Good question.  Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) stated that we need a counterbalance within the government to stop these investigations.  Adam Thierer from George Mason University expressed fear over the lack of transparency in this huge breach of privacy, especially since it has given us no known safety benefits.  In turn, Jerry Cerasale also expressed concern over the extremely broad nature of the NSA inquiries, adding that the data that the NSA collected through the Verizon subpoena and PRISM program was not marketing data.  Marc Rotenberg agreed with Jerry whole-heartedly.

You know it must be true when trade associations and consumer advocates agree, so let me say it again: the data that the NSA collected through the Verizon subpoena and PRISM program was not marketing data.

On the subject of Do Not Track (DNT), Swire mentioned the work of W3C in a series of conversations with browsers and trade associations (including DMA) where opt-in was no longer on the table, but progress definitely being made. Jerry Cerasale talked about the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) AdChoices icon and its success in putting consumers behind the wheel when it comes to online advertising.  With the AdChoices icon now appearing in 1 trillion ads a month, it’s pretty much everywhere. Thierer discussed the importance of data-driven marketing in funding all of the stuff that consumers get for free online.  He also noted that opt-in programs stifle growth, challenging the audience to name a major European tech company. (Skype doesn’t count – it’s owned by Microsoft!)

In the next panel, “What Role Should Government Play?” Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia and Commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also weighed in on the NSA scandal. Johnson believes Congress must pull back the reins of the PATRIOT Act and stop this program.  Brill declined to comment on the inner workings of a separate government agency, instead turning her attention from NSA data mining to marketing “big data.”  She said she fears databases of pregnant women, citing a Target mail offer presciently sent to a pregnant woman.

Clearly DMA’s Data-Driven Marketing Institute (DDMI) has its work cut out for it, setting straight the mischaracterization that marketing data could be used for “creepy” purposes like deciding a pregnant women’s eligibility health insurance coverage…something that is already illegal, not to mention unethical.

All in all, it was an interesting discussion where all sides agreed that data-driven marketing wasn’t the problem.  I think we should all bask in this moment.

(Many thanks to DMA’s amazing legal intern, Alison Swift, for her contributions to this post!)

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