The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration seeks to convene interested groups — advocates, corporations, academics — in a multistakeholder process “to develop legally enforceable codes of conduct that specify how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies in specific business contexts.” The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights was set out in the Obama administration’s proposal for consumer privacy protections, “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy” (pdf).
When the NTIA asked for comments (pdf) on the multistakeholder process in March, a number of groups filed proposals for how to ensure that the process was open and fair. The World Privacy Forum, the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers’ Union, Consumer Watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Consumers’ League, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and US PIRG submitted “Civil Society Multi-Stakeholder Principles” (pdf). The principles noted the need for stakeholders to be able to participate fully.
8. A multi-stakeholder process needs to be fully informed by stakeholders from civil society. As such, in person meetings may only be scheduled if adequate resources are made available to facilitate in person participation by civil society. Otherwise, meetings may only be conducted electronically to facilitate equal participation by all stakeholders. Meeting locations must be chosen with robust input from civil society stakeholders.
Privacy Lives did not sign onto these principles, but I agree with them and especially agree that the multistakeholder process cannot be an open and fair process if it does not allow all stakeholders — whether they are in California or D.C. — to be allowed to fully participate. When the NTIA announced that the first multistakeholder meeting, set for July 12 in D.C. to discuss mobile privacy, would only include a Webcast and that in-person attendance was needed for participation in the meeting, I joined 11 groups in protesting this decision and asking that the NTIA use technology to allow for remote participation. We spoke via phone and e-mail with the NTIA about our concerns and today sent a letter (pdf) to NTIA Admnistrator Lawrence Strickling reiterating the problem and possible solutions:
We are writing to reiterate points that we have made to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) concerning the need to ensure that there will be adequate facilities for remote participation in the first meeting of the multistakeholder process and in subsequent meetings. For the multistakeholder process to be credible, civil society must be able to participate in the meetings to the fullest extent possible, and that means two-‐way, contemporaneous communication. We understand that having all of the stakeholders together in the same room may be viewed as ideal. However, since there is no funding for civil society representatives from outside of the Washington area to travel to the meetings, this is clearly impossible. The time involved in traveling to meetings is another constraint for civil society groups. The NTIA’s decision to have NTIA staff act as proxy for people who are not physically present, taking their questions and comments and relaying them to those in the room, is simply inadequate. Equitable participation requires both in-‐person and real-‐time remote access.
The Principles for the Multistakeholder Process1 that 11 leading civil society groups issued on April 2, 2012 and which were provided to the NTIA called for robust consumer representation and stated that if resources cannot be provided to facilitate in-‐person participation, the multistakeholder meetings should only be held electronically. This would ensure that everyone is on a level playing field. Having made the decision to hold the meeting in person despite the lack of resources, however, the NTIA must provide alternatives that are as close to being there as possible for those who need them.
The following methods can and must be deployed to provide meaningful remote participation:
- An audio bridge with an operator to queue comments and questions via a toll-‐free conference line. To balance remote and in-‐person participation, the NTIA could alternate between taking questions and comments from people on the phone and in the room.
- An Internet Relay Chat (IRC) that people could use to make comments, which could be viewed online and projected in the meeting room.
The letter explained that these technologies are being used successfully in forums similar to the NTIA’s multistakeholder process, World Wide Web Consortium’s Tracking Protection Working Group. Read the full letter here (pdf).