It's time to regulate consumer privacy

So if we can agree that consumer data is extremely valuable to both the public and private sectors, then surely we can agree that more stringent and sustained efforts are needed to oversee how such information is being used.

Some states, such as California, have enacted relatively strong privacy laws. Others are content to allow data crunchers to operate largely in the shadows.

We don't tolerate such ambiguity in financial markets. Various federal agencies monitor trading in everything from oil and corn to stocks and bonds.

Why should consumer data be any different?

There's no need to create a new entity to oversee national privacy issues. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau already is well-positioned to expand its current responsibilities to include oversight of how people's personal information is used.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, need to establish clear national guidelines for privacy. This isn't as farfetched as it may seem. The European Union already has enacted wide-ranging privacy rules.

If our own lawmakers lack the wherewithal or imagination to come up with their own regulations, we could always start with some of the common-sense guidelines in place across the Atlantic for collection, use, disclosure and storage of people's personal info.

In "Dr. Strangelove," Gen. Jack D. Ripper paraphrased French statesman Georges Clemenceau by saying that "war was too important to be left to the generals."

Privacy is too important to be left to businesses and spy agencies. We need someone watching the watchers.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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