White House gets so-so grades on privacy

A privacy report card from EPIC on the Obama administration finds the White House with lower grades than last year in a couple of key areas.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Although it has touted privacy as a key concern, the White House isn't faring as well as it should in that area, at least according to a report card from a noted privacy group.

The White House gets graded on privacy by EPIC.
The White House gets graded on privacy by EPIC. EPIC

Released last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the 2010 privacy report card (PDF) gave the Obama administration a grade of C in consumer privacy, a B in medical privacy, a D in civil liberties, and a B in cybersecurity. Offered by a group of privacy experts at a Capitol Hill briefing, the 2010 report card reflects lower grades in a couple of key areas since last year.

The C in consumer privacy is a step up from last year's "Incomplete" grade when the White House still needed to fill key posts at the Federal Trade Commission and was grappling with some pending investigations. But EPIC was disappointed with the administration's lack of progress this year in online privacy, asserting that the FTC hasn't tackled any significant investigations and has become a "black hole" for complaints the agency would have pursued in the past.

The B for medical privacy is down slightly from 2009's A-. Last year, EPIC lauded the White House for passing the HITECH Act (PDF), which it called one of the best privacy laws in years. This year, the administration has expressed support for tighter online medical privacy controls but has failed to push through any new initiatives, according to EPIC.

In civil liberties, the White House dropped to a D from last year's C+. Though it received custody of several "troubling" programs from the Bush presidency, according to EPIC, the Obama White House has failed to change much and has expanded certain programs the group believes violate civil rights. The administration has also failed at keeping alive the president's Civil Liberties and Privacy Oversight Board, an initiative that EPIC says even the Bush White House considered a priority.

Finally, cybersecurity held on to the same B grade as last year, with EPIC noting that keeping the Internet open while also protecting the country from cyberthreats is a huge challenge. The group applauded the administration for its continued focus on the privacy rights of Internet users. But it noted the rising influence of the National Security Agency and said it would like to see greater transparency surrounding the NSA's role in cybersecurity.