WASHINGTON – At a Commerce Committee hearing titled “Enhancing Data Security,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called for a national privacy law that creates clear digital policies all companies must follow.
“I think we need a national privacy law that creates digital rules of the road, and we need the resources for our agencies to enforce them. They’re two separate things, but you can’t have one without the other,” said Klobuchar.
In December 2019, Klobuchar joined Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and fellow Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ed Markey (D-MA) in unveiling comprehensive federal online privacy legislation to establish digital rules of the road that companies must follow. The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) gives Americans control over their personal data; prohibits companies from using consumers’ data to harm or deceive them; establishes strict standards for the collection, use, sharing, and protection of consumer data; protects civil rights; and penalizes companies that fail to meet data protection standards.
In May, Klobuchar partnered with Senators John Kennedy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Richard Burr (R-NC) to introduce the Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act to enhance data privacy protections by ensuring companies give consumers control over how their personal data is being used. Specifically, the bill gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general the tools they need to hold big tech companies accountable for misuse of consumers’ data. The bill also increases transparency and requires companies to have privacy security programs.
As Chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, Klobuchar chaired a hearing on the big data economy, highlighting how the use of big data affects and can threaten competition.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for not only for today’s hearing but the subcommittee hearing yesterday and the full committee hearing last week. We’re on the move in Commerce and we’re on the cutting edge, as all of you are, in discussing the issues of our day, which is, what do we do about data? What do we do about privacy rules? And as I argued yesterday, we simply cannot--and I appreciate Senator Cantwell’s leadership in the privacy area--we cannot have this gigantic change in our economy like anything we've ever seen in the last few decades, some of it good, some of it bad, some incredible innovations, like the Fitbit I’m wearing right now. But also as we know, one of the jobs of government, the number one job, is to keep people safe. And as we heard yesterday, that's not always happening, as we hear from these cyber attacks. So we need to make our laws as sophisticated as the companies in our economy, and that means upgrading our laws and updating them, and so I appreciate you being here today.
I think we need a national privacy law that creates digital rules of the road, and we need the resources for our agencies to enforce them. They’re two separate things, but you can’t have one without the other. I joined Senator Cantwell and Schatz and Markey in introducing the comprehensive privacy legislation to ensure that consumers can access and control how their personal data is being used. Do you all agree that consumers should have the ability to control their own data? Is that agreement from all of you?
Mr. Lee: Yes.
Sen. Klobuchar: Anyone else?
Ms. Rich: I think a privacy law should go further than consumer control, which is known as a choice, which we’ve seen is problematic. It should provide more substantive protections as well.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you. I think one other thing that was interesting was recently when Apple gave their customers a choice about protecting their data or not, and what was it, yeah you can maybe explain it better for me here, but 75 percent of their customers, is the number out there, chose not to have their data used, and it just shows us what would happen if this was available with all platforms. Professor Felten, in your testimony, you note that we can empower the FTC by authorizing data security rule-making. Why is this rule-making so important to protect consumers’ data?
Prof. Felten: There are a couple of reasons. First, that it provides more specificity than is available through the current structure of the FTC Act. So the companies have a clear idea of what they’re expected to do, and it can also help to clarify ideas such as, clarify issues such as the responsibility of suppliers in a supply chain. So that there’s not ambiguity about what companies are expected to do, and therefore there can be strong enforcement if they fail to do it.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you, and Ms. Rich, the bill would also increase transparency and require companies to maintain certain standards for their data security. In your testimony, you note that it can be a problem when companies over-collect or overstore data. How could a federal privacy law help with this issue?
Ms. Rich: I believe that both bills, they’re a little different, but they both talk about data minimization and reducing unnecessary collection and storage of data, and that would be a very important component of a data security law.
Sen. Klobuchar: And are you aware that one of the proposals out there, as we debate this Build Back Better agenda and making our laws sophisticated and putting people first, some of it is putting some funding into the FTC for privacy, as well as for my position as Chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, we hope additional resources on antitrust, both the FTC and the Department of Justice. Could you talk about how important that is to have those resources? Yes, the privacy bureau, I know Senator Cantwell asked all of you that question, but also the resources for these agencies to do their jobs.
Ms. Rich: The FTC’s resources in privacy and also antitrust, but I’m less familiar with that, is miniscule compared to other comparable enforcers abroad or even sectoral enforcers here in the United States. 45-50 attorneys, that was the maximum when I was there working on privacy, so resources are a critical piece of this, as well as authority.
Sen. Klobuchar: I keep reminding people, these are the biggest companies the world has ever known, several of them are over a trillion dollars, and we’re trying to fight this with duct tape and Band-Aids. The other thing I like to remind people in the competition policy area is when we add resources to that, and I’m sure the same could be said of some of the privacy work, we actually bring in money for the government because they’re doing their jobs and they’re enforcing the laws. As you know, Ms. Rich, these agencies are a shadow of their former selves. [We need to make] clear we’re going to be tough and strong, and they’re just going to push the max, as we saw yesterday from the whistleblower. [Or else] they’re just gonna target kids with bad anorexia content and the like, or let the algorithms do that and not do anything about it. That’s what is going to keep happening unless we strengthen our side of the table. So thank you very much for your work. And I have some questions on cyber threats and the like which I will be putting on the record. Thank you.
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