White House: Internet Gave Obama a Chance in 2007--Keep It Free

Top Internet policy aide says any government regulations need to be "smart and subtle."

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The White House's deputy chief technology officer affirmed Tuesday that the Obama administration wants to keep the Internet "free and open" and wants it to continue to be a place where political change can occur.

"The Internet has been a priority for us … we recognize it's a platform for extraordinary social innovation and extraordinary transformations in the political process," Daniel Weitzner said at Washington, D.C.'s Hudson Institute Tuesday.

[BACK FROM THE DEAD: Internet Activists Fear a New SOPA-Like Bill]

One of those transformations, Weitzner said, was allowing a relatively underground candidate to emerge as the Democratic presidential front-runner in 2007.

"While there's no sense in which this president was elected by the Internet, certainly the early days of his campaign back in 2007 really critically depended on the Internet," he said. "As a somewhat insurgent candidate, it allowed him to get the word out, to organize people against what were regarded as very considerable odds. We think [Obama's success] really was facilitated in significant ways by the platform the Internet creates."

And, according to Weitzner, the administration wants to keep the Internet as open as possible while protecting personal privacy rights. Earlier this year, the administration released what it calls the "Consumer Internet Privacy Bill of Rights," which called for greater control over what data companies collect about their customers.

[Experts: CISPA Isn't SOPA, But Still Attacks Constitutional Rights]

The need for greater privacy protection has become a hot topic for Internet activists after CISPA, a cybersecurity bill that would allow companies to share consumer information with the government, passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. In April, Obama threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

Other bills that have attempted to legislate the Internet have also been discussed in Congress, most famously the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have blocked access to sites that host copyrighted files. Weitzner said that any government attempts to regulate it have to be "smart and subtle."

"The [Internet] has enabled extraordinary innovation, and our goal is to make sure the environment stays that way," he said. In order to do that, he urged Congress to pass legislation that would give consumers "clear privacy protection in the commercial environment" of the Internet. "We feel good about privacy frameworks in the healthcare and finance sector, but there's a significant gap in the general commercial environment … there should be some general, enforceable principles in statute."

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for US News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.