The Internet Education Foundation (IEF) plays an unfortunate gatekeeper role for the Congressional Internet Caucus. Jerry Berman serves as the chair of both the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and the IEF (the two groups also have board members in common). IEF’s most high-profile project is the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, which organizes events for Congress on new media issues. This Wed. (Jan. 30), the group is holding its annual “State of the Net” event. Such congressional meetings really require a group independent of the special interests–especially on a topic so important as the role digital communication plays in a democracy. The event has been structured to be a tame affair–there will be little reality discussed about the real state of digital communications (since groups funding the congressional meeting–including Verizon, Google, Microsoft, AT&T–wouldn’t feel generous in their future giving if they faced a serious critique).
Take the panel on social networks, entitled: “Social Networking Privacy: An Oxymoron?” Such a title fits into the current interactive ad industry/MySpace/Facebook lobbying frame that claims young people don’t care about protecting their personal data. Social network users, especially teens, are being encouraged to place all their personal details on such sites without real safeguards. That’s why it’s time for new privacy policies that provide serious privacy protections on social networks. We urge everyone to read the recent EU paper on the subject, which should help galvanize the public into action. A responsible society should act swiftly to protect privacy online, especially for its youth. As the debate builds on social networks and privacy, it will be vital to inform policymakers about the real story.