August 20, 2013

Leading technology trade associations are urging the White House and Congress to take new steps in connection with government collection of private data -- steps that the groups believe will better protect civil liberties while keeping doors open to innovation in the digital economy. 

“These recommendations are important steps to increase greater public awareness about the role of surveillance programs in the U.S. and to ensure that government collection of private data follows specific rules and guidelines,” explained Yael Weinman, ITI Vice President for Global Privacy Policy and General Counsel.  “The Obama Administration and Congress can take steps to increase public trust and strengthen the digital economy to continue to drive job creation and innovation at home and around the world.”

In a letter to the White House on Tuesday, the technology groups -- BSA | The Software Alliance; Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA); the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI); the Internet Association; SIIA – Software & Information Industry Association; and TechNet -- outlined recommendations that would address concerns raised about the U.S. government’s information collection from commercial entities. These steps would:

  •   Increase transparency in national security programs;
  •   Enhance privacy protections for individuals during law enforcement investigations; and,
  •   Promote cross-border data flows that are central to a robust global digital economy.

The recommendations come after representatives from these and other organizations participated in discussions at the White House with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler to examine the steps that the Obama Administration was taking to better address concerns about its surveillance programs, and to seek the input from business and privacy stakeholders on potential additional actions.

The full letter can be read here.  Recommendation highlights include: 

Implement appropriate transparency with respect to national security programs.  The groups applaud the expanded transparency initiatives that President Obama announced in early August, and urge that the government go farther.

“Implementing such steps to increase transparency can assist in reestablishing trust, both domestically and globally.  Measures taken to be more transparent with respect to government information collection, now and in the future, should be pursued globally,” the letter states.

Support reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that would enhance privacy in law enforcement investigations.  The technology associations note that ECPA, signed into law in 1986, has not been updated significantly in the subsequent years, even though the pace of technology and innovation has advanced manifold.  

“The standards in the law are outdated and are not interpreted consistently.  These standards need to be simplified and provide clearer privacy protections for users,” the letter explains.  “Bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senators Leahy and Lee, would update ECPA and, generally, would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant for the content of all stored electronic communications.  We urge the Obama Administration to support efforts to pass a clean ECPA bill and oppose efforts to include carve outs to the warrant requirement, which would weaken the privacy protections the bill seeks to establish.”

Promote policies that allow for unimpeded cross-border data flows.  The groups expressed strong concern internationally about disclosures about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs could carry significant impact on the global economy.  One report recently noted that that the U.S. cloud computing industry alone could lose up to $35 billion during the next three years.

“The free flow of data is critical to the continued growth of our global economy, and such free flow is recognized as one of the most important principles of international trade.  We are already seeing longstanding and effective cross-border data mechanisms being questioned in light of the recent disclosures about the U.S. government surveillance programs,” the letter states.  “A number of multilateral fora in which the U.S. government participates may be appropriate venues to engage with the international community on preserving cross-border data flows while addressing privacy and civil liberties concerns . . . We encourage the U.S. government to identify opportunities to build on the work of these fora to foster interoperability between privacy regimes. In addition, these fora could provide appropriate venues for work on increased transparency globally for government collection of data.”

About ITI.  ITI is the premier advocacy and policy organization for the world’s leading innovation companies.  ITI navigates the relationships between policymakers, companies, and non-governmental organizations, providing creative solutions that advance the development and use of technology around the world.  Visit itic.org to learn more.

Media contact:  Tom Gavin, 202-524-4397, tgavin@itic.org 

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