Call for Limits on Web Data of Customers

May 1, 2014

DAVID E. SANGER and STEVE LOHR

WASHINGTON — The White House, hoping to move the national debate over privacy beyond the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities to the practices of companies like Google and Facebook, released a long-anticipated report on Thursday that recommends developing government limits on how private companies make use of the torrent of information they gather from their customers online.

The report, whose chief author is John D. Podesta, a senior White House adviser, is the next step in the administration’s response to the disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor that began the debate.

Because the effort goes so far beyond information collected by intelligence agencies, the report was viewed warily in Silicon Valley, where companies see it as the start of a government effort to regulate how they can profit from the data they collect from email and web surfing habits.

Mr. Podesta, in an interview, said President Obama was surprised during his review of the N.S.A.’s activities that “the same technologies are not only used by the intelligence community, but far more broadly in the public and private spheres because there is so much collection” from the web, smartphones and other sensors.

“You are shedding data everywhere,” Mr. Podesta said.

The report makes six policy recommendations. They include passing a national data breach law that would require companies to report major losses of personal and credit card data, after attacks like the one on Target that exposed credit card information on roughly 70 million customers. It seeks legislation that would define consumer rights regarding how data about their activities was used. It suggests extending privacy protections to individuals who are not citizens of the United States and argues for action to ensure that data collected about students is used only for educational purposes.

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