On October 29, 2012, Bloomberg BNA reported on recent speculation (anguished, in some circles) that the Obama administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights “faces dim prospects if Mitt Romney wins the tight presidential race” because of his “general skepticism about regulation.”
Prior to the first presidential debate (October 3), a headline about likely Romney opposition to privacy regulation would have been about as newsworthy as DOG BITES MAN. During that debate, however, Governor Romney proclaimed in ringing syllables that “Regulation is essential.” And he then he went on: “You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation. … I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation.”
No wonder President Obama, momentarily waking to find himself standing at a podium opposite a totally unknown opponent, a Bizarro Mitt, was stunned back into the somnolence that enveloped him that night. His stupor apparently rendered him incapable of pointing out the contrast between what his challenger had just uttered and the “severely conservative” anti-regulation stance he had espoused for at least a half-dozen years and that still that gets its own page on his campaign website.
Given the governor’s October 3 performance, we should not be surprised that “current and former representatives for Romney told BNA that he understands that consumer information should be protected and would likely be open to reviewing the White House plan.”
Would a President Romney deep-six the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights (maybe even on Day One)? Or would he champion it through Congress?
Your answer depends on whether you believe the post- primary, post-convention, post-debate Mitt has found his true center in the political center or is just giving his Etch-a-Sketch the cynical shaking Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason promised back in September. Is the governor a born-again moderate? Or, his recent moderate rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, does he remain the “severely conservative” candidate who knocked over the other GOP hopefuls on his way to the presidential debate?
Problem is, whatever you answer, you can’t really know. Maybe sometime after January 20, but, right now, the ink blot that is the Romney Rorschach looks to you like a bat spreading its wings, while, to me, it’s a pair of parakeets kissing.
Truth to tell, we don’t know all that much more about the prospects for privacy regulation under four more years of an Obama presidency, either. On the table is a proposal for industry-authored privacy codes to be adopted voluntarily by e-commerce providers but enforced by the FTC. What will actually be authored, and what companies will actually comply? Who knows?
Still, the Obama administration’s Consumer Privacy bill of Rights makes the President’s position more than an inkblot, which gives the Internet-savvy, privacy-conscious voter a leg up when it comes to at least predicting privacy regulation under four more years of Obama versus four (or more) years of Romney.
Is one leg up sufficient?
I don’t think so. Both candidates offer varying degrees of uncertainty in a time of increasing regulatory pressure from Europe, increasing incursions into individual privacy, increasing concern (and reason to be concerned) about cybersecurity (inseparable from privacy), and decreasing trust between individual Internet users (one the one hand) and (on the other) e-commerce providers, government, and, not least, every other individual Internet user.
All Internet stakeholders urgently need much more than an inkblot, but also more than tentative and quite possibly impractical stabs at regulatory solutions. AVG Technologies were the first to offer something more: a free active do-not-track (DNT) tool that put an important part of consumer privacy in the hands of the individual consumer rather than in those of industry or government. This technology is part of the technological dimension of what we call the “third approach” to online privacy. A new book, Wide Open Privacy: Strategies for the Digital Life, which I co-wrote with AVG CEO J.R. Smith, details the strategic and tactical dimensions of the third approach.
While you await the results of November 6, watch for the book on Amazon. JR and I are confident that it will give you more control over your digital privacy than either political party is likely to offer in four years, eight, or, for that matter, ever.