Daniel Weitzner is the new White House deputy CTO for Internet policy

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Image by Elon University via Flickr

There’s a new deputy chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: Danny Weitzner. He’ll be taking over the policy portfolio that Andrew McLaughlin held. The appointment appears to have been reported first by Julia Angwin in her story on a proposed bill for an online privacy bill of rights drafted by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Rick Weiss, director of communications at OSTP confirmed the appointment and said that they anticipate that Weitzner will start work “very soon.”

With the appointment, the OSTP staff has three deputy CTOs again working under federal CTO Aneesh Chopra: Chris Vein for innovation, Weitzner for Internet policy and Scott Deutchman for telecommunications policy.

Weitzner has a deep and interesting background when it comes to Internet policy. He was serving as associate administrator for policy at the United States Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the principal adviser to the President on telecommunications and information policy. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Weitzner created the MIT CSAIL Decentralized Information Group and was used to be the policy director for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) before he joined . Here’s his bio from his time there:

Daniel Weitzner is Policy Director of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Technology and Society activities. As such, he is responsible for development of technology standards that enable the web to address social, legal, and public policy concerns such as privacy, free speech, security, protection of minors, authentication, intellectual property and identification. Weitzner holds an appointment as Principal Research Scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, co-directs MIT’s Decentralized Information Group with Tim Berners-Lee, and teaches Internet public policy at MIT.

As one of the leading figures in the Internet public policy community, he was the first to advocate user control technologies such as content filtering and rating to protect children and avoid government censorship of the Intenet. These arguments played a critical role in the 1997 US Supreme Court case, Reno v. ACLU, awarding the highest free speech protections to the Internet. He successfully advocated for adoption of amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act creating new privacy protections for online transactional information such as Web site access logs.

Before joining the W3C, Mr. Weitzner was co-founder and Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a leading Internet civil liberties organization in Washington, DC. He was also Deputy Policy Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He serves on the Boards of Directors of the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Software Freedom Law Center, the Web Science Research Initiative. and the Internet Education Foundation.

His publications on technical and public policy aspects of the Internet have appeared in the Yale Law Review, Science magazine, Communications of the ACM, Computerworld, Wired Magazine, and The Whole Earth Review. He is also a commentator for NPR’s Marketplace Radio.

Mr. Weitzner has a degree in law from Buffalo Law School, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Swarthmore College.

As Angwin reported, Weitzner pushed for creation of the Commerce Department new privacy office while he was at NTIA. In his new role, he’s likely to be working closely with the FTC, Congress and a new privacy office at the Commerce that, according to Angwin, is likely to be run by Jules Polonetsky, currently head of the Future of Privacy Forum.

Weitzner’s appointment is good news for those who believe that ECPA reform matters and for advocates of free speech online. Given the recent role of the Internet as a platform for collective action, that support is worth acknowledging.

For those interested, Weitzner can be found on Twitter at @djweitzner. While he has not sent out a tweet since last November, his link to open government in the United Kingdom last July bodes well for his support for open data and Gov 2.0: “Proposed Government Data Transparency principles from UK gov’t via Shadbolt & Berners-Lee http://bit.ly/b1WyYs #opendata #gov20.”

 

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U.S. House to hold online privacy hearings on “Do-Not-Track” legislation

Yesterday, the FTC online privacy report endorsed a “do not track” mechanism for Web browsers. This morning, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection in the United States House of Representatives will hold a hearing on “Do-Not-Track” legislation. The hearing will e”xamine the feasibility of establishing a mechanism that provides Internet users a simple and universal method to opt-out from having their online activity tracked by data-gathering firms (a.k.a. a ‘Do Not Track List’).”

A livestream of the hearing is available, along with testimony:

The subcommittee has posted a memo that sets the stage for the hearing, which is embedded below. Notably, the document heavily references the Wall Street Journal’s excellent “What Do They Know?” series on digital privacy.

In the Internet age, each keystroke or click of a mouse can betray the most mundane or even sensitive details of our lives, and those details are being collected and packaged into profiles by a data-gathering industry with an increasing hunger for information that can be sold and used to target consumers based on their tastes, needs, and even perceived desirability. Many Americans don’t know that the details of their online lives are being gobbled up and used in this way, much less how to stop it in the event that such collection offends their expectations of privacy.

This summer, the Wall Street Journal began reporting about the online gathering of information about Internet users in an ongoing investigative series called “What They Know.” For its first piece, the Journal uncovered the extent to which Internet users’ activity is being tracked. The Journal found that visiting the top 50 most popular websites in the U.S. resulted in the placement on a single test computer of 2,224 files by 131 companies that track Internet users’ activity across the Internet. In addition, not only is tracking of Internet users pervasive, but it has become more invasive through the use by some in the tracking industry of more sophisticated technologies that can keep tabs on an Internet users activity on a website (rather than collecting just the fact that the website was visited) and some can even re-spawn themselves if an Internet user tries to delete them.

If you haven’t read the series, take some time over the weekend or holiday. And if you’re interested in what the federal government is considering in the context of digital privacy, tune in to the livestream and follow the #DNTrack hashtag on Twitter for the live backchannel.

DNTrack House Briefing memo.12.01

FTC to release online privacy report, host first Twitter chat at #FTCpriv

This fall, online privacy debates have been heating up in Washington. Tomorrow, the Federal Trade Commission will finally deliver its long awaited online privacy report. Chairman. Over the past year FTC has explored new online privacy frameworks and examined the strength of cloud computing privacy in a series of privacy roundtables.

The FTC has issued a privacy advisory for tomorrow, stating that FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz, Jessica Rich, deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and Edward W. Felten, the FTC’s new chief technologist, will answer reporters’ questions “about a new FTC report on privacy that outlines a framework for consumers, businesses and policymakers.”

This FTC online privacy report will be one of the most important government assessments this year. Look for widespread reaction to its contents across industry and technology media. Particular attention likely be paid to two events here in Washington:

First, David Vladeck, the FTC’s director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection Protection, will speak tomorrow at Consumer Watchdog’s policy conference on the future of online consumer protections. You can watch live here (if you can stream Windows Media files.)

Second, House of Representatives will hold a hearing on “Do-Not-Track legislation, which would consider whether citizens should be able to opting of from Web tracking

Will online privacy look different by the end of the day? As Jamie Court, Author, President of Consumer Watchdog, wrote in the Huffington Post:

There are few issues 9 out of 10 Americans agree on. A Consumer Watchdog poll shows that 90% of Americans agree it is important to protect their privacy online. 86% want a “make me anonymous” button and 80% want the creation of a “do not track me” list online that would be administered by the Federal Trade Commission.

The release of the FTC online privacy report also comes with a new media twist: According to @FTCGov, the agency’s Twitter account, the nation’s top regulator will also host its first Twitter chat at 3 PM. It remains to be seen how civil citizens are in the famously snarky medium. The agency has suggested the #FTCpriv hashtag to aggregate tweets. UPDATE: Although the White House OpenGov account and FTC tweeted on Wednesday that the chat would be at #FTCpriv hashtag, not #FTCpriv, the chat ended up being at the original hashtag.

Breaking News! Tomorrow we will release our #privacy report & host our 1st Twitter Chat to answer Qs. More details to come. #FTCprivless than a minute ago via web