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Letter Regarding a Proposed White House Conference on Privacy

February 26, 1998

The Honorable William M. Daley
Office of the Secretary
Rm. 5854
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th & Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Daley:

We are writing to you regarding the proposed Department of Commerce conference on privacy and the Internet. We are academics, representatives of consumer, civil liberties and privacy organizations, and technical experts.

We appreciate your interest and the interest of the White House in a public forum on privacy. We believe that privacy is one of the most important issues facing the American public today. Privacy is a fundamental value, a continuing source of great popular concern. We are all aware that the United States lacks adequate and effective privacy protection. We support your efforts to convene a conference on these issues.

At the same time, we are troubled by the current planning for this event. We understand that the Department has essentially delegated to the private sector the responsibility for organizing this meeting. Planning has begun for the event, even though there is no formal announcement from the Department and no announced request for public participation. Many of the country's leading experts and advocates have not been contacted nor invited to participate. Given the enormous importance of this issue for so many people, we believe it is critical that the planning and organization of this event be as open and as inclusive as possible.

We further believe that there must be certain goals for a White House conference on privacy. These goals include:

This conference provides an important opportunity for listening to the public and developing policies that respond to public concerns. It is critical to the operation of democratic government that all interested parties are given an opportunity to participate in important government proceedings.

Therefore, we urge you to take the following steps to make clear the Department's commitment to a fair and open meeting and to ensure that critical issues are considered at this important event:

1. The conference should be organized by full-time employees of the US government and decisions about participation, progam, and conference activities must be made by the agency responsible for the event. This is simply a matter of fairness: If the Department of Commerce has the staff and resources to meet with and organize on behalf of industry groups, it must expend at least as much energy soliciting public opinion and making possible meaningful public input in the planning of a national conference on privacy. This function cannot be delegated to a particular stakeholder or group of stakeholders.

2. The organizing of this event should be as open and inclusive as possible. Many agencies, including the NTIA, the FTC and the FCC, have made effective use of the Internet to engage the public and request public comment on events in Washington. Mr. Magaziner's work to solicit public comments on the White Paper on Electronic Commerce was also a good example of this. Considering the tremendous opportunity that the Internet provides for public participation in government decision-making, it is clear that much more could be done to engage the public in the development of a national conference on privacy.

3. The evaluation of the adequacy of self-regulation to protect privacy should be a primary goal of this conference. The Administration has recommended self-regulation to protect privacy in lieu of other policies and approaches. Many believe that the policy has not succeeded and that stronger steps, including legislation, should be considered. With the the July 1st deadline for a report to the President approaching, now would be the right time to determine whether in fact self-regulation has worked.

4. Cryptography should be a central issue at a White House conference on Internet Privacy. Encryption is critical to the future of on-line privacy. Without some consideration of the use of cryptography to protect privacy, the meeting will lack credibility and the proposals discussed will necessarily be incomplete. Encryption policy is particularly relevant because the Department of Commerce currently exercises export control over the distribution of encryption products and will be issuing rules on the use of encryption by federal agencies later this year. We also expect that some discussion of the importance of anonymity will be included in the conference program.

The White House has made a commendable commitment to openness and accountability in the development of Internet policy. While we have not always agreed on the outcomes produced, the process has inspired confidence that the Administration is genuinely interested in all points of view.

The current planning for the privacy conference inspires no such confidence. We believe that a fundamental change in the organization of this event must be made to address the issues we have outlined.

We look forward to working with you on this important and timely event. Please contact Marc Rotenberg at EPIC if you have further questions.

Sincerely yours,


Anita L. Allen, Georgetown University Law Center

Philip E. Agre, University of California San Diego

William E. Boyd, University of Arizona College of Law

James Boyle, Washington College of Law, American University

Dan L. Burk, Seton Hall University

L. Jean Camp, Harvard University

Angela Campbell, Georgetown University Law Center

Fred H. Cate, Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington

Richard Pierre Claude, University of Maryland,

Julie E. Cohen, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

Mary J. Culnan, Georgetown University School of Business

Judith Wagner DeCew, Clark University

William J. Drake, Georgetown University

Thomas J. Field, Franklin Pierce Law Center

Peter Fitzgerald, Stetson University College of Law

Leonard N. Foner, MIT Media Lab

Susan Freiwald, University of San Francisco

Michael Froomkin, University of Miami School of Law

Oscar Gandy, Annenberg School for Communication

Llew Gibbons, Franklin Pierce Law Center

Lawrence O. Gostin, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University Program on Law and Public Health

Sheldon W. Halpern, The Ohio State University College of Law

Donna Hoffman, Vanderbilt University

Deborah Hurley, Harvard Information Infrastructure Project

Peter Jaszi, Washington College of Law, American University

Jerry Kang, UCLA School of Law

Gary Marx, Woodrow Wilson Center

Helen Nissenbaum, Princeton University

Eli M. Noam, Columbia University

Tom Novak, Vanderbilt University

David G. Post, Temple University Law School

Margaret Jane Radin, Stanford Law School

Priscilla M. Regan, George Mason University

Joel Reidenberg, Fordham University School of Law

Jeffrey Reiman, American University

James Rule, State University of New York, Stoney Brook

Paul M. Schwartz, University of Arkansas School of Law-Fayetteville

Paul Starr, Princeton University

George Trubow, John Marshall School of Law

Frank Tuerkheimer, University of Wisconsin School of Law

Richard C. Turkington, Villanova School of Law


[academic affiliations for identification only]


Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington National Office

Kathryn C. Montgomery, Center for Media Education

Denise Nagel, National Coalition for Patient Rights

Aki Namioka, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Jamie Love, Consumer Project on Technology

Jason Catlett, Junkbusters Corp.

Barry Steinhardt, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Robert Ellis Smith, Privacy Journal

Beth Givens, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Evan Hendricks, Privacy Times

David Burnham, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse

Ed Mierswinski, U.S. Public Interest Research Group


Patrick Ball, AAAS Science and Human Rights Program *

Ken Bass, Plaintiff's Counsel, Karn v. U.S. Department of Commerce

Cindy Cohn, Plaintiff's Counsel, Bernstein v. U.S. Department of Justice

Whitfield Diffie, inventor of public key cryptography

Alexander Fowler, AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program *

Simson Garfinkel, author, Web Security & Commerce

Stanley A. Kurzban, Founder of ACM SIG for Security, Audit, and Control

Susan Landau, author, Privacy On the Line

Peter G. Neumann, author, Computer-Related Risks

Bruce Schneier, author, Applied Cryptography

Barbara Simons, IBM *

Richard Stallman, inventor of GNU

Philip Zimmermann, Network Associates *


Mike Godwin, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Lance Cottrell, Anonymizer Inc.

Patric Hedlund, Computers, Freedom & Privacy Video Library Project


[*: affiliation for identification only]


cc: Ira Magaziner

Chairman Robert Pitofsky, Federal Trade Commission


Senator John Ashcroft

Senator John Breux

Senator Diane Feinstien

Senator Ernest F. Hollings

Senator John McCain

Rep. Tom Bliley

Rep. John D. Dingell

Rep. Bob Franks

Rep. Edward J. Markey

Rep. W.J. Tauzin

Rep. Bruce Vento