The Department of Commerce's role is to boost U.S. industry, so it's not surprising--although alarming--that reports say Secretary Pritzker has recommened the White House adopt a "cost-benefit analysis" as it develops its NSA spying policies. Ms. Pritzker was quoted as speaking at the industry's Consumer Electronics Show that "We've been talking to various constituencies within the business community, we understand their issues [with NSA spying],"... that her division is "part of the conversation" going on now inside the White House about reviewing the NSA's surveillance powers. "We very much have a voice at the table." The article repored that "Prtizker did say that there needed to be a balance between security and privacy, and that the White House was even considering quantifying the economic impact surveillance might have on businesses. "Inserting a cost-benefit analysis into the process is one of the things that's being considered," Pritzker told the panel attendees (my bold).
We await the transcript to be placed on the DoC site for the Secretary. Perhaps she said that such widespread and unfettered surveillance-whether by government or commercial companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo--fundamentally undermines a free society. Much of the online industry's concerns over the NSA and related Snowden revelations is about a negative impact to their profits and market share. It's not about privacy, human dignity or freedom--because stealing other peoples information is one of America's few successful growth industries.
Ms. Pritzker is incorrect--there should not be a "cost-benefit analysis" to address the loss of privacy from unfettered government spying. It should certainly not be used as a rationalization to sanction U.S. digital data collection practices--which are as far-reaching as the NSA's in many respects. The apparent failure of Secretary Pritzker to call for greater consumer privacy protections, and for the online data industry to be held accountable, is another example of why the Commerce Department should not play a role in the privacy debate.
PS: We see that Ms. Pritzker is the former Chair of the Board of databroker TransUnion. Her family also had owned part of the company. TransUnion is involved with commercial digital data collection. This is another conflict of interest for the Commerce Department and why it cannot be relied on to protect consumer privacy.
Update: We see that Sec. Pritzker also gave an interview to the IDG news service where a more measured approach was taken. She's quoted as saying: ”I think we need to ... have a real look at the issue of privacy and where you draw the lines and what are the rules,” Pritzker said in an interview with IDG News Service at the International CES expo in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
”I don’t think there is consistency or clarity right now ... in terms of what companies are collecting and what they can do with that data,” she said.
The issue was underscored for her, she said, when she toured CES and saw some of the gadgets on display, especially those associated with the “Internet of things.”
But it's way passed the "real look" stage. We know about the pervasive and unaccountable commercial data collection by U.S. companies. Ms. Pritzker doesn't appear to be briefed well on the issue by her NTIA people. We remain convinced that the DoC is a digital dead letter office for real consumer privacy protection.