Obama’s In­ter­net po­lice

Ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to reg­u­late on­line com­merce

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

It’s the same old story. Ever since the In­ter­net be­came pop­u­lar, politi­cians have looked for a way to sink their claws into it. They hate the idea that the public might com­mu­ni­cate and en­gage in com­merce largely free from gov­ern­men­tal red tape. So Pres­i­dent Obama last month an­nounced a Con­sumer Privacy Bill of Rights to give Un­cle Sam more of a role in shap­ing the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence.

The idea is to ex­ploit the re­cent, high-pro­file privacy con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing Google and Face­book. Some com­plain that these on­line gi­ants are col­lect­ing too much per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. Usu­ally, public outrage about in­tru­sive prac­tices is suf­fi­cient to en­cour­age re­straint, and con­sumers have the ul­ti­mate power of say­ing no to ser­vices that don’t meet their ex­pec­ta­tions.

That’s not enough for the ad­min­is­tra­tion. For­get the “hands-off” pol­icy of the past. Mr. Obama wants to de­cide what Google and Face­book can and can­not do. He’s dep­u­tiz­ing the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion (FTC) to serve as In­ter­net cop, en­forc­ing what once was a vol­un­tary code of good con­duct.

This sys­tem will be re­placed by new man­dates cooked up by a “mul­ti­stake­holder process” con­sist­ing of “in­ter­na­tional part­ners, the FTC, Fed­eral civil and crim­i­nal law en­force­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and State At­tor­neys Gen­eral.” In other words, gov­ern­ment busy­bod­ies will tell the pri­vate sec­tor how its busi­nesses should be run.

The big­gest prob­lem for the ad­min­is­tra­tion is that when it comes to privacy, the em­peror has no clothes. On Mr. Obama’s watch, the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion has pho­tographed mil­lions of pas­sen­gers in the nude — in­clud­ing young chil­dren — us­ing X-rated X-ray ma­chines.

Big Brother also took steps to get its hands on ev­ery­one’s med­i­cal x-rays. Thanks to Oba­macare, new man­dates are forc­ing doc­tors to con­vert pa­tient records into an elec­tronic for­mat. This is sup­posed to im­prove ef­fi­ciency — as if the mar­ket needed a spe­cial in­cen­tive to make sen­si­ble changes. As a Bri­tish gov­ern­ment re­port found af­ter blow­ing $20 bil­lion on sim­i­lar top-down com­puter man­dates, “There can be no con­fi­dence that the pro­gramme has de­liv­ered or can be de­liv­ered as orig­i­nally con­ceived.” In Septem­ber, the United King­dom’s Depart­ment of Health an­nounced it was dis­man­tling this bloated ef­fort.

The prob­lem with elec­tronic med­i­cal records is that the highly sen­si­tive, per­sonal in­for­ma­tion in an in­di­vid­ual’s med­i­cal his­tory can be zapped around the bu­reau­cracy in an in­stant. That gives gov­ern­ment in­spec­tors an op­por­tu­nity to look over the shoul­der of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als for “qual­ity as­sur­ance” pur­poses. The White House hasn’t stopped there, push­ing Real ID na­tional iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card stan­dards and driver’s li­censes with em­bed­ded ra­dio fre­quency track­ing chips.

Some­how, this ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t be­lieve any of these gov­ern­men­tal ac­tions con­sti­tute privacy in­va­sion, but plac­ing a cookie on an In­ter­net browser does. Congress needs to get se­ri­ous about privacy by stop­ping the gov­ern­ment’s in­tru­sions be­fore telling oth­ers what to do. The last thing the In­ter­net needs is Mr. Obama’s help.

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