ALTA, Trade Groups Urge Congress to Pass Federal Consumer Privacy Legislation

September 30, 2021

ALTA joined 21 other associations urging Congress to pass national privacy legislation that equally protects all Americans.

In a letter to U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) ranking member of the committee, the groups urged the committee to develop legislation that provides robust protections for consumers, predictability for businesses and new resources for the Federal Trade Commission.

“Data has helped keep the ‘digital lights’ on for small business struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, bolsters public health and expands financial inclusion for underserved communities,” the groups wrote. “With data playing such a critical role in our economy, consumers deserve robust privacy protections that are clear and understandable.”

The letter points out that over 120 countries have adopted comprehensive data protection laws, while the United States has a patchwork of legislation at the state level making it difficult for small business to compete due to increased compliance costs.

“This patchwork also fosters consumer confusion, as state residency is now the sole determinate of a U.S. consumer’s privacy rights,” the letter said.

The committee held a hearing Sept. 29 examining how to better safeguard consumer privacy rights and the need for a comprehensive federal privacy law.

To open the hearing. Sen. Wicker pointed out the FTC reported that identity theft increased by almost 3,000 percent during 2020, while cyberattacks and data breaches are also on the rise. She said Congress has an opportunity to develop bipartisan national privacy legislation. Sen. Wicker called President Biden to President to appoint someone from his senior staff to be a liaison to Congress on the issue and to prioritize the enactment of a data privacy law this year.

“Congress, not the FTC, is responsible for developing a comprehensive national data privacy law,” Sen. Wicker said. “Only Congress can develop longstanding data protections for consumers that meaningfully safeguard their personal information. Anything short of congressional action would create significant regulatory uncertainty for businesses and confuse consumers about the scope and durability of their privacy rights. Americans deserve to have their data protected. The time for Congress to act to pass federal data privacy legislation is now.”

Sens. Wicker and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) earlier this year reintroduced the Setting an American Framework to Ensure Data Access, Transparency, and Accountability (SAFE DATA) Act. The legislation would provide Americans with more choice and control over their data and direct businesses to be more transparent and accountable for their data practices. The bill would also enhance FTC’s authority and provide additional resources to enforce the Act.

Several experts testifying before the committee agreed that federal legislation is needed.

David Vladeck, a professor and faculty director the Center on Privacy and Technology Georgetown Law, supported additional funding for the FTC. He believes the agency does not have adequate resources to safeguard online privacy and fight digital threats.

“There is plainly a path forward for the FTC to create a new bureau that focuses on protecting privacy and combatting other digital harms, without undermining the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s ability to do its job,” Vladeck said.

Morgan Reed, president of The App Association, said his group would like to see federal requirements that put in place baseline consumer rights and curbs data processing activities that expose consumers to undue privacy risks. The App Association would like to see a single set of national rules governing authorized data processing activities and data security practices.

Ashkan Soltani, an independent researcher and technologist, formerly served as the chief technologist at the FTC. In addition to funding, he would like to see the FTC get additional privacy authority “so the agency can properly fulfill its mission.”

“It is critical that Congress passes federal privacy legislation that builds upon, but does not preempt, privacy legislation adopted in states like California and Colorado,” Soltani said. “Already, there has been a concerted effort in Congress and in statehouses across the nation to muddy the conversation and introduce privacy bills that appear strong, but merely entrench the status quo of privacy violations. Specifically, bills like the one adopted in Virginia appear robust, but allow exploitative business practices to continue unabated.”

Senate Democrats Urge FTC to Address Data Privacy
Nine Senate Democrats sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan urging the commission to “begin a rulemaking process” on data privacy. The letter is another indication that the FTC is likely to put data privacy rules on its agenda in the next few years.

In the letter, the senators argued that a national standard for data privacy and security is needed to:

  • protect consumers
  • reinforce civil rights
  • safeguard the nation’s cybersecurity.

The lawmakers argued that the “the rulemaking should consider strong protections for the data of members of marginalized communities, prohibitions on certain practices (such as the exploitative targeting of children and teens), opt-in consent rules on use of personal data and global opt-out standards.” The letter is signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass).

This comes on the heels of President Biden nominating noted privacy hawk Alvaro Bedoya to fill the third Democratic seat on the commission. Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. Bedoya was an aide to former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary privacy subcommittee. Bedoya has written extensively on surveillance law, and his most recent paper argues that privacy should be a civil right.

Lastly, House Democrats voted to add $1 billion to the FTC budget to help them create a new privacy and data security bureau as part of their reconciliation package.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].