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Why Some Privacy Advocates Are Grinning Over Obama's Cybersecurity Order

White House photo

The cybersecurity order President Obama introduced last night sets up some new ways for Washington to share threat information with the private sector. For now, it’ll be a one-way relationship: the government can notify private businesses if they’ve been targeted for cyberattack, but the businesses won’t be giving anything to the government in return.

The White House hopes Congress will change that through legislation this year. Bills like the perennially controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) would open the floodgates of information in the other direction. Privacy groups aren’t a fan of those efforts, as they worry companies won’t be held accountable if personally identifiable data gets handed over and abused. But at least when it comes to the executive order, some have only praise.

“Greasing the wheels of information sharing from the government to the private sector is a privacy-neutral way to distribute critical cyber information," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement last night.

Part of the reason the ACLU supports Obama’s move is because everything contained in the order — and in particular, the development by federal agencies of in-house cybersecurity standards — will be held up against the Federal Trade Commission's universally recognized privacy standards, the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPP). Here’s how they’ll help preserve privacy.

Transparency and openness. Agencies will have to be clear about who’s collecting the data, who’ll have access to it, and how it’ll be used.

Choice and consent. This is the opt-in/opt-out checkbox you’re probably familiar with if you’ve ever been asked to install a toolbar, search widget, or other third-party software along with a program.

Access and participation. People and organizations have to be able to learn exactly what’s been collected about them.

Integrity and security. Agencies will have to take “reasonable” measures to protect any data they’ve collected.

Enforcement and redress. There must be a way for people to challenge the system if they think there’s been a breach of the principles.

These principles don’t pertain to data being collected from ordinary Americans. Under the executive order, federal agencies will be expected to develop rules about cyber that they’ll enforce upon themselves. Those rules are meant to conform to FIPP — and that’s a good thing as far as some privacy advocates are concerned.

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