In a speech this week at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy Daniel Weitzner announced that the Administration will soon roll out a “privacy bill of rights,” which he described as a “broad, high-level statement of principles” that could be enforced by the FTC.  Weitzner emphasized that the Administration wanted to move quickly on privacy, even if that means doing so without legislation.  “We’re not going to wait for Congress,” Weitzner said.

Although Weitzner did not describe the details of the program — which probably will be included in the Department of Commerce’s forthcoming privacy report — he explained that the program would be “voluntary” but “enforceable.”  That likely means that it will follow the approach followed by other self-regulatory programs, such as the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, in which participating companies voluntarily submit to an enforcement mechanism but also publicly represent that they comply with the program.  This, proponents argue, could trigger the FTC’s existing authority to take action against “deceptive” trade practices when a company tells consumers that it complies but actually does not.

When the Administration announces its “bill of rights,” we expect that it will reflect an effort to update traditional notions of privacy to today’s diverse online economy, including broad principles that companies can implement in the particular contexts in which they operate.  We also anticipate efforts to make theoretical privacy concepts more practical and understandable to the average consumer and to empower consumers to make decisions about their own privacy.

According to a report from veteran tech policy reporter Cecelia Kang at The Washington Post, Weitzner implied in his remarks that European privacy rules are too stringent and said that the administration would work with European regulators to adopt a so-called “hybrid” approach to privacy, involving both a self-regulatory program and enforcement, which is similar to the approach that the Administration endorsed at APEC this past week.  Such a program, Weitzner said, would be both “flexible” and “pro-innovation.”