Federal Privacy Legislation Comes Into (Partial) Focus

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April 7, 2024

Federal online privacy legislation may finally be coming into focus. Our Center has repeatedly called for such a national law to regulate the ways that digital companies can gather and exploit personal data. But the details of a proposed federal bill remain unclear, and given the volatility of a presidential election year, it’s far too early to celebrate a victory on this important front.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are close to a compromise agreement on “landmark” privacy legislation. In our June 2023 report, Safeguarding AI, we wrote:

Lawmakers need to try again to pass the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which would give consumers more control over their personal information. The legislation attracted bipartisan support in 2022 but ran into opposition from California Democrats concerned that their states strong privacy law would be preempted and from industry lobbyists and some Republicans seeking a weaker federal standard.

The new legislation might not be as comprehensive as the failed American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which passed out of committee in the House but never received a floor vote. The degree to which a potential new federal law would preempt the dozen state laws that have cropped up in response to the vacuum at the federal level is one possible stumbling block this time around, too.

The Washington Post reports:

Republicans have long argued that a federal law should harmonize state standards, while Democrats have called for letting states go beyond any federal protections. The two sides have also largely remained apart on whether consumers should be able to bring their own lawsuits over violations, with Democrats backing such provisions and Republicans opposing….

The federal government already has laws safeguarding peoples health and financial data, in addition to protections for childrens personal data, but theres no overarching standard to regulate the vast majority of the collection, use and sale of data that companies engage in online. Meanwhile its been nearly six years since the European Union began implementing its own standards, which set limits on companiescollection practices.

Enactment of a meaningful federal privacy law would constitute a welcome exception to the toxic dysfunction of recent years that has led to Congressional inaction on regulating digital industries.


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