WASHINGTON – Senators on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee generally agreed Thursday that Congress must pass legislation to increase data privacy protections, but that’s where the agreement ended.
Congress should pass comprehensive data privacy legislation to avoid having states enacting many different versions of such protections, which would create difficulties for tech companies to comply with the various laws, according to John B. Morris Jr., a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. For example, California and Maine passed data privacy legislation last year.
Several of the experts criticized the idea of data ownership as a solution, even though it has been implemented in some form in several other countries. Under that policy, individuals own any data they create online and companies have to buy their data to use it for marketing or other purposes.
Chad Marlow, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the data ownership model favors wealthy people who could afford to not sell their data, but less wealthy people would be willing to sell their data for some financial gain. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., agreed that the ability to keep data private should not depend on wealth.
But Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said that people are being compensated for the use of their data because they are allowed to use search engines, email and social media for free. Will Rinehart, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, said, “Social media by most accounts probably benefits people to about $13,000 per year.”
Morris said that a better approach to data privacy would be to pass legislation to increase the transparency of how tech companies use people’s data and to give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to regulate and fine tech companies that misuse data.