California Initiative for Internet Privacy Launches

Steve Javors
LOS ANGELES — A public program formed to explore the possible implementation of voluntary or mandated approaches toward improving Internet-related privacy issues has been created by Lauren Weinstein, a longtime Internet authority.

The California Initiative for Internet Privacy, or CIFIP, has opened a public discussion forum on its website and has raised the possibility of legislative action, with a focus on implementing a voter initiative on the California ballot in 2008.

The group’s chief concern is data retention and accidental leakage of search queries that could be personally identifiable, exemplified by AOL’s recent breach of privacy when the firm released an extensive cache of users’ search data.

Weinstein has drafted an open letter to Google titled “Concepts for a Google Privacy Initiative” and “Search Engine Privacy Dilemmas – and Paths Toward Solutions” in hopes of engaging the search engine giants into “meaningful dialogues to voluntarily address [privacy] issues.”

The Los Angeles-based Weinstein has long been involved with the Internet, starting in the 1970s at the first site on the ARPANET, the Internet’s ancestor. Weinstein is the co-founder of PFIR – People for Internet Responsibility, IOIC – International Open Internet Coalition and EEPI – Electronic Entertainment Policy Initiative.

“It is understandable that the search firms wish to retain detailed search data,” Weinstein wrote on CIFIP’s website. “It has real value, it’s relatively inexpensive to archive, and, frankly, there’s just nothing stopping them from keeping this information essentially forever. However, this approach, subject solely to the changeable desires of the firms themselves, obviously does not appropriately balance privacy rights with corporate rights. And so we find ourselves at this juncture.”

CIFIP has started two public mailing lists: one for announcements and related materials and the other for public discussions regarding privacy issues.