April 3, 2012

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz’s April 2 op-ed, “Protecting privacy in a TMI world,” made much of Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous remark that privacy is “the most comprehensive of rights.” But, in this instance, the FTC has reached for the sound bite and not the substance.

Brandeis’s key point was that the law must be updated to take account of new technologies, business practices and investigative techniques. Bran-deis, who helped establish the FTC, would probably be surprised to see the current agency continuing to support industry self-regulation, as the challenges that consumers face become more complex.

The slow pace of the “Do Not Track” initiative and the agency’s failure to enforce consent orders and reluctance to tell Congress clearly that more must be done to safeguard Internet users strongly suggest that the FTC is not fulfilling its public purpose.

Brandeis also opposed consolidation of market power. He believed that over time it would drive up prices, drive down service and stifle innovation. Yet the FTC has allowed the growth of a few firms that dominate virtually all of the key services of the Internet economy.

Marc Rotenberg, Washington

The writer is president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

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