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The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) is a cabinet department of the U.S. government concerned with promoting national economic growth. It is administered by the Secretary of Commerce.

It was originally created as the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903. It was subsequently renamed to the Department of Commerce in 1913, and those bureaus and agencies specializing in labor were transferred to the new Department of Labor.

The mission of the department is to "promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development." Among its tasks are gathering economic and demographic data for business and government decision-making, issuing patents and trademarks, and helping to set industrial standards.

The Department maintains information on international trade, social and economic statistics, patents, trademarks, ocean studies, domestic economic development, and minority businesses.

Internet-related activities[]

The Department has played an instrumental role in developing policies that have helped commerce over the Internet flourish. Over the past two decades, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in its role as principal adviser to the President on telecommunications policies, has worked closely with other parts of government on these issues.[1]

In 1993, the White House formed the Information Infrastructure Task Force (White House Task Force), chaired by the Secretary of Commerce, to develop telecommunications and information policies to promote the development of the Internet. The Privacy Working Group of the White House Task Force, led by NTIA, published a report entitled "Privacy and the National Information Infrastructure."[2] In the report, the NTIA analyzed the state of privacy in the United States as it relates to existing and future communications services and recommended principles to govern the collection, processing, storage and use of personal data.

In 1997, the White House Task Force noted NTIA's findings in publishing "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce," proposing five principles for international discussion to facilitate the growth of Internet commerce.[3]

Over subsequent years, the Department has worked in a number of international fora to develop privacy and security guidelines that foster international trade. The International Trade Administration (ITA) administers the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, which allows U.S. companies to meet the requirements of the 1995 EU Directive on Data Protection for transferring data outside of the European Union.[4] ITA also administers the U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework, which was implemented in 2008.

The Department played a significant role in the development of the 1980 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Privacy Guidelines, the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum's Privacy Framework and the launch of the Trilateral Committee on Transborder Data Flows in 2008.

ITA also is involved in bilateral Internet commerce and privacy policy initiatives with India, Japan, China, Korea and other key countries. In addition, ITA works closely with the Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. industry in developing international standards covering cybersecurity and data privacy.

Today, there is a domestic and global reassessment of approaches to privacy given the fundamental changes in the information economy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has hosted a series of public roundtables to explore the privacy challenges posed by the wide array of 21st century technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data. The goal of the roundtables was to determine how best to protect consumer privacy while supporting beneficial uses of the information and technological innovation. The FTC accepted public comments on these issues through April 14, 2010, and FTC staff is now reviewing the comments received.[5] The Department of Commerce has participated in these sessions and will continue to collaborate with the FTC going forward.

The National Broadband Plan (Plan), which the Federal Communications Commission released on March 16, 2010, makes recommendations for government action to address online privacy issues.[6] Specifically, the Plan recommended clarifying the relationship between users and their online profiles; developing trusted "identity providers" to help consumers manage their data; and creating principles to require that customers provide informed consent before service providers share certain types of information with third parties.[7] The Plan also urged the creation of a number of Internet privacy-related innovations to enhance our nation's energy, education, health care, and government performance.[8]

Internationally, the OECD's Committee on Consumer Policy (CCP) recently launched a review of the 1999 Guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of E-Commerce.[9] The OECD Working Party on Information Security and Privacy (WPISP) is conducting a 30th anniversary study of the 1980 OECD Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.[10]

The APEC Electronic Commerce Steering Group is developing a system for cross-border data flows among APEC members to implement its 2005 Privacy Framework.[11] The United States, Canada and Mexico recently finalized a report highlighting the need to address impediments to transborder data flows.[12]

Finally, the European Commission is evaluating and considering changes to its 1995 EU Directive on the Protection of Personal Data.[13] Given the global reevaluation of data privacy policies, the Task Force is seeking to determine whether current privacy frameworks, or frameworks that are in development, create barriers to innovation on the Internet and, if so, how they might be addressed.


The Department is responsible under HSPD-7, in coordination with other federal and non-federal entities, for improving technology for cyber systems and promoting critical infrastructure efforts, including using its authority under the Defense Production Act. Two of the department’s subcomponents are responsible for activities that can impact international efforts related to cyberspace security and governance.

In addition, the Department is involved in international efforts related to cybersecurity or governance, including:

  • Overseeing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority contract, and negotiated the Affirmation of Commitments signed between the U.S. government and ICANN in September 2009. NTIA also represents the U.S. government on ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee.
  • Participates in ITU-T study group efforts (cybersecurity standards, promotion of neutral policy-related outputs as appropriate) as a substantive expert member of U.S. delegations.
  • Participates in ITU-D study group efforts (national best-practices guidelines, tools to promote a culture of cybersecurity, and cybersecurity self-assessment tools) as an expert member of U.S. delegations.
  • Participates in ITU-R study group efforts (spectrum management) as an expert member of U.S. delegations.
  • Has participated in technical, policy, and regulatory capacity-building efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean through efforts in OAS-CITEL as an expert member of U.S. delegations.
  • Participates in technical, policy, and regulatory capacity-building efforts in Latin America through efforts in OAS-CICTE as an expert member of its workshops and through efforts supporting its work in global cyber incident response team development.
  • Participates in the activities of the International Sub-IPC.


  1. 47 U.S.C. §902 (noting NTIA has "the authority to serve as the President’s principal adviser on telecommunications policies pertaining to the Nation’s economic and technological advancement and to the regulation of the telecommunications industry."); see also "Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan," at 55.
  2. See Privacy and the National Information Infrastructure: Safeguarding Telecommunications-Related Personal Information.
  3. See President William J. Clinton & Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" (1997).
  4. For more information on the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, see here.]
  5. See Exploring Privacy: A Roundtable Series.
  6. See Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan.
  7. Id. at 55–56 (Recommendations 4.14–4.16).
  8. Id. at 208. 234–35, 252, 253, 286 (Recommendations 10.4, 11.11, 12.2, 12.5, 14.6, 14.7).
  9. See OECD, Conference on Empowering E-Consumers: Strengthening Consumer Protection in the Internet Economy (Washington, D.C., Dec. 8-10, 2009) (full-text).
  10. See OECD, The 30th Anniversary of the OECD Privacy Guidelines (full-text).
  11. See APEC, Data Privacy Pathfinder Projects Implementation Work Plan (full-text).
  12. See Office of Technology and Electronic Commerce, Trilateral Committee on Transborder Data Flow (full-text).
  13. See European Commission, Freedom, Security, and Justice, Data Protection (full-text).

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