The Obama administration today issued its official call for the creation of a new Privacy Policy Office that would focus on facilitating discussions among stakeholders in order to protect and inform consumers about the privacy risks, costs and opportunities created by the growth in personal data online.

In a corresponding Department of Commerce report (PDF), the effort was said to be focused on many steps that could be taken short of legislation. It also repeated extensive calls to preserve the incredible opportunities for innovation that online data use enable, something you're unlikely to see focused on by media coverage from places like the Wall Street Journal, where anything with a hint of privacy foul has been subject of single-minded attack for months.

In text that reads very much like the Federal Trade Commission's call for a "Do Not Track" list, issued two weeks ago, this newest report from the Department of Commerce is introduced thusly:

Strong commercial data privacy protections are critical to ensuring that
the Internet fulfills its social and economic potential. Our increasing use
of the Internet generates voluminous and detailed flows of personal
information from an expanding array of devices.

Some uses of personal
information are essential to delivering services and applications over the
Internet. Others support the digital economy, as is the case with
personalized advertising. Some commercial data practices, however, may
fail to meet consumers' expectations of privacy; and there is evidence
that consumers may lack adequate information about these practices to
make informed choices. This misalignment can undermine consumer
trust and inhibit the adoption of new services. It can also create legal
and practical uncertainty for companies. Strengthening the commercial
data privacy framework is thus a widely shared interest.

However, it is important that we examine whether the existing policy
framework has resulted in rules that are clear and sufficient to protect
personal data in the commercial context.

The government can coordinate this process, not necessarily by acting as
a regulator, but rather as a convener of the many stakeholders--industry,
civil society, academia--that share our interest in strengthening
commercial data privacy protections. The Department of Commerce has
successfully convened multi-stakeholder groups to develop and
implement other aspects of Internet policy. Domain Name System (DNS)
governance provides a prominent example of the Department's ability to
implement policy using this model.

This conversation is unfolding at the same time that interest in leveraging data is growing among companies and among people interested in analyzing bulk user data for social good is as well. We've said for some time that online user data is going to be a key resource in the near-term future. Do you agree that more consumer protection is needed in order for the Internet to take advantage of all this data effectively and sustainably? Do you want the Federal government getting involved with it?