Online privacy must be cooperative, official says

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, unveiled in February, was formulated as a voluntary document largely because the Internet is developing faster than the government's ability to regulate it, a White House official said Wednesday.

"The average cycle time at the [Federal Communications Commission] is about six years for the rule-making process," Daniel Weitzner, the White House's deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy, said during a panel discussion sponsored by the Washington International Trade Association.

"We can look back and say, well, six years ago there was no Facebook, no social networking really at all," Weitzner said. "Six years before that, there was no Google and six years before that there was no commercial Internet. So we clearly need a process that can work more rapidly."

The document also was driven by the desire of global companies to have a set of practices nimble enough that they can be adapted for different countries, he said.

"It might be nice to think that at some point we could reach a grand, global privacy protection treaty so that everyone could have one set of rules to comply with," he said. "That's not likely to happen all that soon, though we can hope things will evolve in that direction."

The European Union, in particular, has interpreted online privacy much more broadly than the United States.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights allows consumers to control the personal data that companies can access and asks companies to publish clear guidelines about the data they will collect and how they will use them.

The document was spawned by a slate of controversial corporate practices regarding personal data, including Google's decision to consolidate data it's already gathering across different platforms such as search, email and its Google+ social networking site.

The Federal Trade Commission will monitor companies that voluntarily adopt the new guidelines. Those that don't could face ridicule by consumer and privacy groups. The White House plans to expand the basic principles in the consumer bill of rights after consulting with industry.