Democrats in the House of Representatives are promising to push for federal regulation of tech companies if they retake the House in November.
Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, has drafted an Internet Bill of Rights and shared it with influential tech journalist Kara Swisher. It includes liberties like the right to access and transport personal data collected about you, an opt-in framework for data collection, and net neutrality protections. Rep. Nancy Pelosi charged Khanna with drafting the principles, according to an essay by Swisher published in the New York Times.
The list includes the right to obtain, correct, or delete personal data “where context appropriate and with a fair process.” That’s not nearly as sweeping as the “right to be forgotten” included in Europe’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect earlier this year.
The Bill of Rights would also require companies that collect personal data to notify users of breaches in “a timely manner” and mandate “reasonable business practices and accountability to protect your privacy.”
Swisher calls it “an admirable list” but is concerned that codifying the principles “will be like pushing back the ocean.”
Many big tech companies have business models built entirely on collecting as much user data as possible.
Still, lawmakers are waking up to the fact that allowing tech to operate in a widely unregulated space has serious drawbacks. A number of high-profile data breaches and other controversies have led to a watershed moment for the tech industry.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat from Washington state, introduced a privacy bill in the last legislative session.
“There is an important role that government needs to play in making sure that it is very clear that people are protected across the board and that privacy is the default,” she said in an interview with GeekWire. “That absolutely has to be where the conversation is. People have different business models and different things that motivate them but we need to make sure that people’s basic fundamental rights are protected and that their privacy is protected as well.”
In September, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Google, Twitter, and Charter sent representatives to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Senate committee on privacy. It followed previous hearings with executives from Twitter and Facebook.
“The question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers privacy,” said Sen. John Thune during the privacy hearing. “The question is what shape will that law take?”