Mobile Privacy Lawmaker Invites the Anti-SOPA Forces to the Drafting Table
The U.S. Congress has learned much this year about policymaking in the digital age. The SOPA debacle earlier this year showed that when the right Internet stakeholders disagree with a proposed law, the ensuing public outcry can be overwhelming. So when it came to writing a law to protect mobile privacy, Representative Hank Johnson took a more cautious approach: He invited the grass roots to help him write it.
Every month, a new story arises of how a mobile app failed to protect user information. Or how an advertising network violated consumer privacy. These stories highlight a very real issue: Policies that effect how technology interacts with consumers have not kept pace with innovation.
Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) understands that problem. His AppRights.us
initiative, announced on Wednesday, is an effort to craft mobile provacy legeslation while avoiding the pitfall that SOPA fell into. The idea is to write the legislation transparently, gathering input from everybody who could be affected by privacy in mobile apps. AppsRights.us will solicit information from stakeholders in technology community to serve as background for comprehensive legislation dictating how mobile apps should behave with respect to user privacy.
“I’m looking forward to getting the feedback my office needs to craft a thoughtful proposal to secure privacy rights for technology consumers," Johnson said via email. "And I expect to show that an open legislative process is in the public’s interest."
The AppRights.us website is currently not much to look at. The page offers a graphical mockup of a smartphone that sends email to Johnson's office. It also includes a few announcements, including the initial press release, which the congressman distributed on Wednesday via Reddit. The site will eventually show four types of information, according to Jonathan Ossoff, Johnson’s senior legislative assistant.
- The process of making the legislation: The requisite information-gathering that goes into building a bill, such as requests for information, what steps are being taken, and what information is being gathered from which entities.
- Analysis of stakeholder input: The site will summarize meetings with stakeholders (such as companies, civil liberties groups, developers, lobbyists and average citizens).
- Specific ideas: As the Congressman gains a clear sense of the bill's direction, specific ideas will appear on the site and Johnson will begin following up with stakeholders.
- The legislative proposal itself.
“We want this to be a bottom-up process as much as possible,” Ossoff said. “We are operating from the assumption that federal law is really antiquated.”
By announcing AppRights.us on Reddit, Johnson aimed his message at the heart of the protest movement that killed SOPA. Six hours after the post went up, it had seven up-votes and three comments, one of them from Johnson himself.
Johnson’s effort follows several other steps by the U.S. government toward a framework for consumer privacy in the digital age. In March, the Federal Trade Commission issued its “Final Privacy Framework Report
,” which included a large section concerning the mobile apps and mobile advertising networks. The Obama administration has also taken a keen interest in mobile privacy this year, issuing the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights as well as a white paper in February on “consumer privacy in a networked world.” Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the Do Not Track Online Act of 2011 and Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif) introduced similar legislation into the House of Representatives.
What do you think of the Rep. Johnson's approach to legislating mobile privacy? Is it necessary? Is it likely to be effective? Let us know in the comments.