In a speech delivered to the Congressional Internet Caucus, Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel for the software giant, told Caucus members that the time has come for a strong national standard for privacy protection. Such a standard, he said, would benefit consumers and set clear guidelines for businesses, while still allowing internet commerce to flourish.
According to Smith, there are three key factors that have led Microsoft to support a comprehensive federal legislative response: an increasingly complex patchwork of state, federal and even international laws related to data privacy and security; the potential for consumer fears about identity theft and other online dangers to dampen online commerce; and the increasing consumer desire for more control over the collection and use of online and offline personal information.
"The growing focus on privacy at both state and federal levels has resulted in an increasingly rapid adoption of well-intended privacy laws that are at times overlapping, inconsistent and often incomplete," Smith said.
"This is not only confusing for businesses, but it also leaves consumers unprotected. A single federal approach will create a common standard for protection that consumers and businesses can understand and count on."
Smith warned of the increasing level of concern from Americans on the subject of identity theft over the internet.
"Individuals will not take full advantage of the internet or any commercial medium if they believe that their information or data could be compromised or disclosed in unexpected ways," he said. "There is a causal link here: protecting consumers promotes commerce, and that's good for everyone."
Smith went on to argue that consumers' increasing desire for more control over the collection and use of their personal information - springs from the response to the increasingly aggressive tactics of computer criminals.
"We've seen a spate of legislative activity in the aftermath of several highly publicized data breaches, but for consumers, the reality is still pretty daunting. They do not necessarily have a better experience and in many cases still do not clearly understand how companies are collecting, using and disclosing their personal information in the first place," Smith said.
Jerry Berman, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that that legislation was the only way to establish consumer privacy expectations for the digital age: "While we have not reached consensus on all of the provisions of a privacy bill, we applaud Microsoft's willingness to work actively with other high-tech companies, consumer organizations and policymakers to make serious privacy legislation a reality."
Microsoft's Smith claimed that there is growing support in the technology industry for a more standardized approach to data privacy. Companies such as HP have voiced support for a federal legislative approach and have incorporated similar ideals into their standard operating procedures.
Barb Lawler, HP's chief privacy officer, said: "HP believes a uniform federal approach to data privacy would provide a consistent level of expectation for consumers and business continuity for corporations."