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Rep. Suzan DelBene at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) is adding her voice to a growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers calling for stronger consumer protections online. Just before the last Congressional session ended, she introduced a bill that would set new privacy standards for companies that collect personal data on users in the U.S.

DelBene’s Information Transparency and Personal Data Control Act would establish an “opt-in” framework for companies that collect sensitive personal information and require them to present privacy policies in “clear and plain language.”

Although this session has ended, DelBene plans to take the issue up again next year. The former Microsoft executive sat down with GeekWire to discuss her bill and tech’s watershed moment between sessions at the GeekWire Summit last week. She said the most fundamental concept that the law needs to take up, is establishing “privacy as the default.”

“People should have to opt in if their information’s going to be used,” she said.

DelBene is one of several members of Congress pushing for more federal oversight of the tech industry. Last week, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who represents Silicon Valley, drafted an “Internet Bill of Rights” and shared it with 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.

DelBene’s legislation would enlist the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the new privacy protections. The proposal doesn’t go as far as the European Union’s sweeping new General Data Protection Regulation because of “First Amendment rights and civil rights and civil liberties,” DelBene said.

As Washington State Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben recently noted, the most likely course would be to “strengthen the consumer protection statutes more rooted in American concepts of law.” That’s DelBene’s goal. She hopes to establish a fundamental baseline to govern companies that collect personal data with her bill.

“We look at transparency, privacy being the default, and enforcement,” she said. “Those are probably three areas that are going to be critically important if we move forward on privacy legislation at the most fundamental level.”

Historically, internet companies have operated unfettered by federal regulation. But a series of high-profile data breaches and other concerns associated with companies that peddle in user data have galvanized regulators. DelBene says it’s no longer sufficient to trust tech companies to police themselves.

“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, again, that privacy is the default,” she said. That absolutely has to be where the conversation is … we need to make sure that people’s basic fundamental rights are protected.”

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.

“These are issues that aren’t going away,” DelBene said. “These are issues that, as we look forward in terms of where technology’s headed, could continue to impact people in many different ways. It’s absolutely important that we understand government’s role and the policies that we need to put in place.”

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