Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation that would create a new federal agency to regulate Big Tech’s amassing size and power and clamp down on the tech industry’s handling of online privacy.
The Online Privacy Act, sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA ) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) would mandate the creation of a “Digital Privacy Agency.” The federal agency, staffed with at least 1,600 employees, would be tasked with enforcing regulations and privacy restrictions stipulated in the legislation.
It would also impose damages up to the same maximum amount as that of the FTC, which is $42,530, CNBC reports, citing a fact sheet issued by representatives’ offices.
The DPA would oversee issues that are currently regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which currently monitors and regulates the unchecked and increasingly monopolistic tech industry with less than a 100 officials assigned to oversee violations.
“I believe that the FTC lacks the staff, the expertise and the culture to take [this on].” Eshoo said. “This is a monumental task of protecting privacy.”
If passed, the Online Privacy Act would grant users the ability to legally “access, correct, delete and transfer data about them” and choose for how long a company can keep the data and “allows individuals to sue for declaratory or injunctive relief, and when not acting collectively, for damages,” the fact sheet states.
Additionally, the bill requires tech companies like Facebook and Twitter publicly disclose justification for how and why they are collecting and processing data.
“For companies, the bill requires they disclose why they need to collect and process data, minimize employee and contractor access to user data, not use private communications like email to target ads or ‘other invasive purposes,’ obtain consent to disclose or sell personal information, abstain from using ‘dark patterns’ that can mislead users into providing consent, among other provisions. Companies must also notify the DPA and users if breaches or ‘data sharing abuses’ occur, with Cambridge Analytica provided as an example in the bill’s fact sheet,” CNBC reports.
The proposed legislation by the two congresswoman from Silicon Valley comes after Congress has failed to agree on the specifics of a privacy measure that would garner bipartisan support, like whether tech companies should be subject to lawsuits by individuals for alleged violations.
Lawmakers who reside in Silicon Valley should be at the forefront of pushing back against invasive Big Tech, Lofgren warned in a call with reporters on Tuesday.
“If the representatives in Silicon Valley took a strong stand for privacy rights, then it would be meaningful for the rest of Congress. That’s why the bill is as strong as it is,” she said. “Our country urgently needs a legal framework to protect consumers from the ever-growing data-collection and data-sharing industries that make billions annually off Americans’ personal information.”
“Privacy for online consumers has been nonexistent — and we need to give users control of their personal data by making legitimate changes to business practices,” she continued.
Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced concern about the user data the tech industry obtains following last year’s revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm, improperly acquired access to personal information of 87 million Facebook users.
The controversy resulted in Facebook paying a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission and prompted leaders of tech firms including Apple and Microsoft to call for federal standards on privacy.
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