Top Democrats on Tuesday proposed tough new privacy laws to rein in the US’s tech companies after a series of scandals that have shaken confidence in the companies and exposed the personal data of millions of consumers.
The effort, led by Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate commerce, science and transportation committee, aims to “provide consumers with foundational data privacy rights, create strong oversight mechanisms, and establish meaningful enforcement”.
The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (Copra) comes after a series of failed attempts to rein in the tech giants in the US.
“In the growing online world, consumers deserve two things: privacy rights and a strong law to enforce them,” Cantwell said. “They should be like your Miranda rights – clear as a bell as to what they are and what constitutes a violation.”
The act resembles Europe’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation, passed in 2016. It would force tech companies to disclose the personal information they have collected, delete or correct inaccurate or incomplete information and allow consumers to block the sale of their information.
If passed the act would also make it easier for US authorities to levy large fines on tech companies and make it easier for individuals to bring legal action against the companies that breach the privacy rules. It also includes tougher rules to protect teenagers and children.
The bill’s sponsors are all Democrats and include presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar. “Companies continue to profit off of the personal data they collect from Americans, but they leave consumers completely in the dark about how their personal information is being used,” she said. “It’s time for Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation.”
Bipartisan support for tighter regulation of the tech companies has grown after scandals including Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy that harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without consent. However, the bill will face stiff opposition, not least from the tech industry’s powerful lobbying arm which has successfully fought off other attempts to pass more meaningful regulation.
Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, said Copra looked like a legitimate effort to put at least basic protections in place.
“The writing is on the wall: companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google have achieved their titanic size and by harvesting our personal data as part of a business model based in surveillance that is fundamentally at odds with basic human rights,” she said.
“It’s a no-brainer for lawmakers to support this basic level of protection. In the end, strong data privacy legislation will need to be one piece of a larger effort to rein in big tech and ensure that the internet is a force for liberation and creativity, rather than tyranny and greed,” said Greer.