Senate Dems Introduce Privacy Bill of Rights

Provides laundry list of data use thou shalt's and shalt not's
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A Democrat-backed comprehensive online privacy bill, the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA), has been introduced that would be sort of an adult version of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) already on the books.

Related: FTC Extends COPPA Comment Deadline

The bill was introduced Tuesday (Nov. 26) by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.)--Markey was the author of COPPA, and immediately drew reaction from inside the Beltway.

U.S. Capitol

The bill's goal is to create "foundational data privacy rights, create strong oversight mechanisms, and establish meaningful enforcement."

A pair of House Democrats earlier this month introduced a bill, H.H. 4978, the Online Privacy Act, that would create a privacy bill of rights and a new government agency to enforce those rights.

“In the growing online world, consumers deserve two things: privacy rights and a strong law to enforce them,” said Cantwell. “They should be like your Miranda rights [you have the right to remain silent, etc.]—clear as a bell as to what they are and what constitutes a violation.”

Both Republicans and Democrats support comprehensive privacy legislation, but they will need to get on the same page and the same bill if it is to pass. The Cantwell bill would provide a privacy Bill of Rights, something the Obama Administration sought without success.

Those consumer rights include the right to delete info, to correct inaccuracies, to control the use of info--opt in for collection of sensitive data, for example--the right to data minimization--limit info use to only what is necessary to perform a specific function and only with permission--data security, the right to transparency, the right to data portability, the right to data security, the protection of civil rights, a prohibition on the waiver of rights, and more. There is a carveout for smaller businesses.

Related: Dems Renew Call for Privacy Bill of Rights

There would be civil penalties for violations, whistleblower protections, and much more. To check out a summary of the Cantwell bill, click here.

While the Dems and their supporters saw them as necessary rights, some critics were quick to suggest they were "wrongs."

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) vice president Daniel Castro saw the rights primarily as wrongs when it came to spurring innovation.

"This legislation fails to strike the right balance between consumer privacy and commercial innovation. It would severely restrict legitimate uses of consumer data, limiting the opportunities for companies to collect, use, and share data to innovate in the digital economy," Castro said. "The main beneficiary of this legislation appears to be privacy lawyers, as companies would be forced to spend millions on legal services to update privacy notices, hire dedicated privacy officers, and defend themselves against civil suits.

"This bill reflects the wish list of certain privacy activists who are uninterested in the economic impact of data protection legislation," he said. "Make no mistake, it would be a recipe for spoiling the digital economy."

He said Congress should keep working on bipartisan legislation "that streamlines regulation, preempts state laws, establishes basic consumer data rights, and minimizes the impact on innovation."

Free Press Action, by contrast, saw the enumerated rights as the right stuff:

Free Press Action senior policy counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

"We commend Senator Cantwell and her cosponsors for introducing legislation that puts the public interest before the interests of the companies that make astronomical profits from selling our data," said Laroia.

“The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act would restore power over our data to the people. It would allow internet users to sue companies in court, with the potential of very costly consequences for those wrongly exploiting our data. Companies need to know they will face stiff penalties for violating people’s rights. The enforcement provisions in this bill would give any company second thoughts about continuing the unscrupulous practices that have dominated this industry for over two decades." 

“We thank Senator Cantwell and her co-sponsors for reigniting discussions and thought leadership toward comprehensive privacy reform," said Dave Grimaldi, EVP of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. "Americans deserve strong privacy protection and world-class products and services that can only be made available when businesses have clear and uniform rules of the road. A federal privacy law can accomplish those goals and more, and we are energized to work with Senator Cantwell and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass comprehensive privacy legislation that provides strong protections for consumers while also enabling innovation and the responsible use of data. The time for reform is overdue, and we are confident that bipartisan consensus on new protections is achievable in 2020.”