The digital age has revolutionized the way we live, work, and have fun. We can now share our opinions with people around the world in seconds, purchase groceries at the touch of a button, and read the latest news at a moment’s notice. We’ve never been so interconnected. For consumers, there are countless ways in which technology has made our lives easier.
At the same time, there is no doubt that the rapid acceptance of technology in society has also brought tough issues to the forefront. One of those issues has been the privacy and security of our information. While data helps our Internet ecosystem work, many Americans have been surprised to learn what data is being collected and the ways in which it’s used.
Last Congress, the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee held nearly a dozen hearings discussing privacy and security issues. That includes much publicized hearings where we heard from the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter about how those companies collect, safeguard, and use data. From those hearings, it was clear that while these companies provide a service that Americans like, consumers aren’t always clear about what happens with their personal information.
Recently, the state of California passed legislation that would impose a strict regulatory regime to oversee the collection and usage of data privacy. Unfortunately, because of the nature of how data easily flow across state boundaries, this standard will be the de facto law of the land. Citizens of the other 49 states – and businesses – will be expected to comply despite their inability to weigh in with their local representatives. When it comes to the rules that govern data and security, it’s clear that we need one national standard that all Americans can count on.
There is good news. I believe Republicans and Democrats can come together to find agreement. Both consumer groups and business organizations have come on board in calling for a strong national standard. We all agree that Americans – the consumers – should have transparency and accountability. We also agree that Americans are competitive and creative, and we must make sure the United States remains the prime location to develop innovation and technology.
Any federal legislation should include a national framework that ensures businesses face one set of rules, not a patchwork across fifty states and the District of Columbia. It should also prioritize transparency for consumers. When a person uses an app or website, they should be able to understand what data is being collected and how it will be used without scrolling through endless pages of legal jargon.
At the same time, we know there will be sticky issues that will need to be discussed and debated. There are real concerns that data rules, if not done properly, could harm startup culture and have a chilling effect on innovators. I believe we can strike the right balance that protects consumers and ensures continued technological advancement – but our work is cut out for us.
With the California law slated to take effect at the beginning of next year, time is of the essence. In divided government, it’s not always easy to tackle the tough problems, but I believe the time is right to work together on a federal data privacy solution.
Congressman Bob Latta represents Ohio’s 5th District and serves as the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.