March 20, 2005


Today's news brought two items that are interesting in their separate ways but much more interesting when placed side by side.

First we see an article (also at) in which the US National Institutes Health (NIH), a US Federal agency, is resisting Freedom of Information (FOIA) Requests to reveal documents that the NIH is required to publish under the Federal Ethics In Government Act.

What reason did the NIH use to refuse the request?  They claimed that these documents, documents mandated by Federal statute to reveal conflicts of interest by high Federal officials, were being withheld because they would be an "unwarranted invasion of privacy" of those officials.  (I wonder what the US tax authority, the IRS, would say if taxpayers were to use that excuse to withhold their tax forms?)

Second we see a letter from a commissioner of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking ICANN to be more demanding in its private contracts to require the opening of the the private customer records ("whois") of domain name registries and registrars to the public on a 24x7x365 basis.

In other words, we see the US FTC requesting nominally private corporations and businesses to engage in privacy-busting behavior of the first order.  In fact the requested behavior is so outrageous that is likely to be in violation of the privacy laws of many countries.

Why does the FTC want this?  Because they are very lazy.  The FTC people apparently feel that their power to issue subpoenas or to otherwise use supervised legal methods of obtaining access to private business records, which is what the "whois" database is, is simply too much of a bother.  They'd rather do their investigation via a web browser.  I'm all for efficiency - but not when that efficiency comes at the expense of our civil rights.  The FTC apparently believes that it is OK to expose the private data of families and their children to predators if that exposure makes life a bit easier for some lazy FTC investigator.

So from these two articles I would have to conclude that the Executive Branch of our US Government believes:

A) that high officials deserve privacy even if that means violating the express requirements of a Federal statute and

B) that peons, oops, I mean citizens, have no right to privacy and that the private customer records of businesses, even in the absence of any accusation of wrongdoing or threat to health or safety, are to be published for the benefit of predators, spammers, and competitors.

And thinking of FTC and investigations - I wonder when the FTC is going to get back to its real job, which is to track down and stop unfair trade practices in the US.  When is the FTC going to send a letter to ICANN asking ICANN to explain exactly and precisely why ICANN is not an illegal combination in restraint of trade?

Posted by karl at March 20, 2005 8:14 PM