The Obama administration recently announced an effort to regulate internet privacy. The plan, labeled a “consumer privacy bill of rights” and ostensibly voluntary, seeks to put federal bureaucrats in charge of enforcing the privacy standards of internet companies such as Google and Facebook.
Using his go-to rhetoric when looking to expand government powers, the President said that Americans “can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” and pledged to act with or without Congressional action. The President seems to think that all of society does nothing but sit around and “wait” for him to devise a solution to every problem. His latest attempt at playing savior thus represents yet another in a long line of government overreaches into the private sector.
In touting his initiative, the President observes that, “For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure.” Does the President really imagine that internet businesses would have no interest in succeeding without his heavy hand to direct them? Or does he merely think that his extensive expertise at growing a business makes him better qualified than the successful entrepreneurs who have pioneered the internet? Oh right, he has no such expertise.
At the heart of the proposal is the apparent belief that consumers are helpless without government oversight, but the exact opposite is true. Without any direction from government, there already exist numerous tools for protecting privacy on the internet. When individuals and businesses in a free society see a problem, they devise solutions all on their own without government direction, such as browser addons to track the trackers and anonymous web proxies, to name a couple.
Internet users certainly have good reason to distrust internet giants Google or Facebook when it comes to their privacy, but no one is forced to user their services. And while there is certainly room to improve upon existing tools and choices, a centralized privacy regime will hinder, rather than help, the process.
If the President gets his way, internet companies will be subject to FTC oversight on privacy, and will face harsh penalties for noncompliance. Although the program is initially being billed as voluntary, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mandatory. This proposal is merely an early step toward putting the government in charge of setting the rules for internet commerce. Such a centralized approach will necessarily inhibit creativity by forcing everyone into a single system. Consumers will be robbed of the innovations that would have likely emerged under a more decentralized, competitive environment.
The internet moves at fast pace, one which government is incapable of matching. Federal regulations are cumbersome and inflexible, and by the time rules for today’s technology are developed, tomorrow’s innovations will have rendered them obsolete.
Internet privacy is important. It’s just far too important to leave up to government bureaucrats.