Obama’s Internet police
Administration moves to regulate online commerce
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.