Top Do Not Track Man to Guide Obama on National Security and Privacy

Do Not Track Group Co-chair Peter Swire Returns to the White House

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Peter Swire
Peter Swire

Peter Swire, the man who has co-chaired a global Do Not Track coalition, is no stranger to the White House. Now he's returned.

Mr. Swire was named to President Obama's newly created Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies on Tuesday, an appointment that emphasizes parallels between consumer data collection and the federal government's surveillance operations.

Established Aug. 9, the small advisory board is tasked with helping the president determine how to balance privacy and civil liberties with national security efforts.

Like Mr. Swire's most recent post heading up the Worldwide Web Consortium's increasingly chaotic initiative to establish a standard for Do Not Track technology, the Review Group's mission is a daunting one. Here's how President Obama described the Review Group in an Aug. 12 memorandum:

The Review Group will bring a range of experience and perspectives to bear to advise the President on how, in light of advancements in technology, the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

The group was asked to "assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust."

Members were asked to brief President Obama on their initial assessment within sixty days or around the end of September. An official report will follow. According to a White House memo, the President met with group members including Mr. Swire on Tuesday.

Another notable member of the review group, Richard Clarke, worked on the National Security Council under President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton. Mr. Clarke famously decried President George W. Bush's failure to act on his warnings about the al Qaeda threat before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Mr. Swire in November was named co-chair of the W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group, a coalition of around 100 digital privacy and legal wonks tasked with devising a Do Not Track standard. Simply put, the group is meant to come up with technical specs for a system that would allow people to easily opt out from online tracking. The group has been hampered by internal squabbles among privacy advocates and ad industry representatives, however, and failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines for finalizing the standard.

It's unclear whether Mr. Swire's work with the Do Not Track group will influence his intelligence group discussions on subjects such as privacy. Mr. Swire declined to comment.

Comparisons have been made between the desire for greater control over consumer data collection -- often for marketing purposes -- and calls for tighter restrictions on anti-terrorism surveillance by the National Security Administration. Much of the information the NSA has been sifting through to prevent terrorism exists because the Verizons and Googles of the world harvest it. Ongoing revelations about the NSA's Prism program now has some marketers asking themselves how much data they should be able to collect and store.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration's initiative to establish mobile app privacy standards has come under scrutiny by privacy group Center for Digital Democracy as "lobbyist-dominated."

Mr. Swire served on the Obama/Biden transition team as a counsel to the New Media Team, and later was special assistant to President Obama for Economic Policy in 2009 and 2010, according to his personal website. He also served as chief counselor for privacy in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, where he helped craft updates to wiretap laws for the internet, his bio says. He is a professor in the Law and Ethics Program of the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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