The Computers Freedom and Privacy conference wraps up today in San Francisco. The annual gathering of techies, policy wonks, and professional paranoids provided a focus for coverage of online privacy. CNET's News.com owned the privacy issue, as evidenced by stories on the conference, a new online privacy bill, moves in Europe, and U.S. government feints toward Microsoft's Passport technology.
The proposed legislation on online privacy, introduced yesterday by Sen. Ernst "Fritz" Hollings, proposes to preempt state legislation on privacy, to enshrine consumer "opt-in" as the gold standard for privacy protection, and to let people sue in federal court for violations. All of these provisions are anathema to chambers of commerce; no one Unspun surveyed provided historical perspective on how these same provisions have doomed privacy legislation in the past.
News.com quoted a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, spinning the corrosive influence of European privacy freaks on the American way of life: "If you start legislating privacy, you give the green light to any country in the world to come in the U.S. to set up legislation." In a separate story, News.com covered what looks like a pullback on consumer protection by a committee of the European Parliament, which softened a European Union stand on the need to let consumers know before planting cookies on their computers.
Another cluster of stories centered on government use of computer technology and its implications for privacy. The Seattle Times and Reuters wrote about the disclosure by the White House technology czar that he is considering using Microsoft's Passport "to verify the online identity of America's citizens, federal employees and businesses." The Register filed a thoughtful piece on the UK government's cozy relationship with Microsoft. And a correspondent to Slashdot, the Greek chorus of technology news, imagined "being unable to reenter the country because the Passport servers are down again."
Finally, Unspun found compelling privacy nuggets in a Forbes account of how Microsoft quickly ramped up its Washington presence into one of the most effective influence machines inside the Beltway. Reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum recounted how Microsoft managed to "stall federal privacy legislation by trumpeting P3P," a privacy standard it helped to develop. For lobbyists, sometimes the sweetest success is preventing laws from even being considered. - Keith Dawson
Privacy fears move closer to reality
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Hollings pulls together Net privacy bill
Online privacy back in spotlight with Senate bill (Reuters)
EU shifts stance on cookies
U.S. Considers Microsoft Passport as National ID
Microsoft defends Passport privacy
The Microsoft Government Portal explained
How Microsoft Conquered Washington