Report: Transparency in online data collection needed
WASHINGTON — The White House, hoping to move the national conversation on privacy beyond data harvesting by intelligence agencies to the practices of companies like Google and Facebook, released a long-anticipated report on Thursday that recommends requiring private companies to release information they gather from their customers online.
The report, whose chief author is John D. Podesta, a senior White House adviser, is part of the administration’s reaction to the disclosures of global surveillance by Edward J. Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency. The effort is viewed with suspicion in Silicon Valley, where companies see it as the start of a government effort to regulate how they can profit from the data they collect from email and Web surfing habits.
The report focuses on mosaic techniques that allow companies, in the guise of collecting anonymous data from large groups of users, to identify an individual’s activities online.
The report suggests steps Congress could take, including a mandatory system that would force firms to report data breaches — like the one that led to the theft of credit card data from 100 million Target customers last year. A similar measure failed two years ago as part of a broader cyberprotection bill.
The report also recommends extending U.S. privacy rights to foreigners, on the theory that there are no boundaries when it comes to the data collected online. President Barack Obama declared in January that the government would do the same in the treatment of data it collected through the NSA and other intelligence groups.
Podesta, said the president was surprised during his review of the NSA’s activities that “the same technologies are not only used by the intelligence community, but far more broadly in the public and private spheres because there is so much collection” from the Internet and smartphones. “You are shedding data everywhere,” Podesta said.