• US Lawmakers Push for Online Consumer Protection

    The New York City skyline is seen at a distance as two women are seen on their laptops in a building in Hoboken, New Jersey, Jan. 23, 2018. With privacy breaches on the rise, there is a growing push for greater online protection of consumers. FILE The New York City skyline is seen at a distance as two women are seen on their laptops in a building in Hoboken, New Jersey, Jan. 23, 2018. With privacy breaches on the rise, there is a growing push for greater online protection of consumers.

    The U.S. Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, enshrined in law the right to speech, assembly, and worship. Now some congressional leaders are calling for a new bill of rights, one for the internet age.

    The purpose: to protect people's personal data.

    U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who counts many tech firms in his district, recently issued a list of 10 principles as part of his "Internet Bill of Rights."

    "You should have the right," Khanna begins, "to have access to and knowledge of all collection and uses of personal data by companies."

    Privacy advocates have long criticized internet firms for their handling of user data and the difficulty many people experience in taking control of their information. That discussion has only gained momentum in recent months as U.S. tech companies such as Facebook and Google grapple with high-profile data breaches that have undermined consumers' trust.

    Internet regulations on multiple fronts

    In addition, internet firms are facing new privacy and security laws.

    California's new online privacy law, slated to go into effect in 2020, gives consumers more control over their data and greater ability to sue companies. State regulators will have more power as well to fine companies that violate the new law, which allows customers to tell companies to delete or not share their data.

    California's new law has been described as the most stringent privacy regulation in the country, although it is not as expansive as Europe's General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect earlier this year.

    Other U.S. states, such as Ohio, have recently passed cybersecurity legislation.

    "There's a feeling that to stem the tide of state regulation, a federal law is needed," said Chris Hoofnagle, an adjunct professor of law at the University of California Berkeley. "The big goal is to knock out California."

    Tech leaders argue for national privacy law

    On Capitol Hill, tech company executives have turned the tables somewhat on privacy advocates by taking the lead in arguing for federal digital privacy legislation.

    At a congressional hearing in September, executives from Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and other firms testified in support of a federal law. Google released a framework for legislation, which includes giving people the "ability to access, correct, delete and download" personal information.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told The New York Times that if the Democratic Party takes control of the House of Representatives in November, there would be a push for federal legislation.

    "It is not a question of being antagonistic, but being ready to find a better way for the future," she said.

    A broad consensus for federal privacy legislation

    The issue of internet privacy tends to cross political party lines, with Democrats and Republicans expressing support.

    At a recent hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Senator John Thune, (R-South Dakota) said, "It's increasingly clear that industry self-regulation in this area is not sufficient. A national standard of privacy rules of the road is needed to protect consumers."

    But Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), a longtime advocate for digital privacy rights, questioned tech firms' involvement in setting the agenda.

    "We shouldn't have any delusions about why those companies and their peers are all of a sudden advocating for a federal privacy law," Markey said. "Their hope is that Congress will pass a comprehensive privacy bill that will pre-empt California and maybe more burdensome state laws."

    An internet wish list

    With his bill of rights, Representative Khanna, who declined to comment for this story, addresses some of consumers' biggest digital privacy concerns about what data is collected, how it is used and who has control of it.

    Among the rights would be the ability to "move all personal data from one network to the next" and to be notified of a security breach or "unauthorized access of personal data."

    One of Khanna's rights has seemingly little to do with privacy but with customer internet access. It would restore "net neutrality," making it a law, not a regulation that can be overturned with each new administration. Internet service providers would be prohibited from "blocking, throttling, engaging in paid prioritization, or otherwise unfairly favoring content, applications, services, or devices."

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