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White House: Wong Is Right Choice for Internet Privacy Post

15 May, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has chosen Nicole Wong as a senior adviser to Todd Park, the White House’s chief technology officer, focusing on Internet privacy.

Wong, a seasoned copyright and privacy lawyer with more than a decade of experience in Silicon Valley at both Google and Twitter, will work with Park. She previously was a vice president and deputy general counsel at Google at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters where she helped review privacy, copyright and removal requests. During her time in Silicon Valley, she earned the nickname “The Decider” for her work with a team of lawyers who reviewed Google’s products, according to the New York Times.

After eight years with Google as part of the Perkins Coie law firm, Wong moved on to Twitter. With Wong at the helm, Twitter won several accolades for its privacy practices.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that in a 2008 interview, she discussed the delicate balance between promoting American ideals of openness and respecting local laws. Under her watch, for example, Google removed several YouTube videos critical of former Turkish President Kemal Ataturk and barred Holocaust-denial sites from turning up in Google searches in Germany and France.

“Free-speech law is always built on the edge,” she told the New York Times, “and in each country, the question is: Can you define what the edge is?”

Among the many online privacy issues facing Obama are the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, passed last month by the House of Representatives. Critics have called the legislation, which gives the government easier access to user data from Internet companies, overly broad, and Obama has threatened to veto it.

Open-source advocate David Landry, in a series of Google+ posts Tuesday, worried that Obama was putting “a fox in charge of the hen house” by naming a veteran of big Internet companies to a privacy oversight role.

“Which side is a ‘chief privacy officer’ supposed to be on?’” Landry wrote. “The side of the people, helping them protect their privacy? Or the side of the corporations wanting easier access to people’s private information?”

But other privacy advocates noted that both Google and Twitter have a track record of turning back overzealous law enforcement requests for user data, both here and abroad. Those advocates give credit to Wong, a former board member of the California First Amendment Coalition.

“On the whole, the people who are breathing the atmosphere of technology as part of Silicon Valley are going to have a lot of real-world experience with these privacy issues,” said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who worked with Wong when both were partners at Perkins Coie.

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