As the bill winds its way through Congress, it's important not to get distracted by side issues. One that most worries me is the "teen privacy" debate. To be sure, there is a lot to worry about here: data-sharing by teens on social networking sites, behavioral advertising, data collection by mobile applications, and sketchy advertising campaigns.
These valid concerns have led to all kinds of ideas -- extending existing parental consent laws aimed at young children to teens, mandating an eraser button on social networks and establishing a Do Not Track requirement just for teens.
These, however, are little more than bright shiny objects that make for good sound bites but don't make a lot of sense as legal mandates. In order for sites to comply, they'd have to get everyone's identifying information before using the site. That doesn't sound particularly privacy-protective to me. Teen-specific laws would get Congress tangled up in constitutional questions about teen rights and technology mandates.
We have to remember that the United States has almost no privacy protections for our personal data whether we are 15 or 85. That is why we need to keep our eyes focused on the real prize: a comprehensive privacy law that protects everyone's data.
Is Kerry-McCain bill perfect? No, but it is a good place to begin. If we wait for perfect, we wait forever; this bill is better -- and more comprehensive -- than anything the Senate has seen in ten years. It gets us most of the way there, and if there are some critical tweaks, it will get us darn close. We need a consumer privacy bill that will protect data across all sectors, online and off, and provide the flexibility to meet future technology challenges. The time to get it done is now.