Congress should prioritize data privacy protections

The Hill

As America’s best athletes convened in the capital of our greatest economic and technological rival, the FBI issued a stark warning that lawmakers would be wise to consider. In their message to our Olympians, the FBI urged them to leave their cell phones at home, lest their data security be compromised, their privacy violated, and their communications monitored by Chinese government officials.

This portrait of a society where the personal data of each and every one of us is compromised should be a warning to Congress as they barrel toward passing legislation that would cede America’s technological edge to Beijing. That’s because, in a fervor to break up America’s technological innovation leaders, Congress’s antitrust agenda would help put China in the driver’s seat to build the internet of the future as it desires.

Proposals currently moving through Congress, like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, the Open App Markets Act, and the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, not only exempt Chinese companies from further regulation, they could also mandate U.S. firms to share data with foreign rivals under the false pretense of increased competition. 

Rather than actually increasing competition, the proposals would relinquish our competitive edge against our greatest foreign rival by making it less appealing to start a company in the U.S., eliminating many of the conveniences we rely on every day, and putting our national security at risk by disarming our frontlines in the fight to prevent foreign hackers and bad actors from executing more frequent and more successful cyberattacks on Americans. Rather than bolstering our defenses to prevent the installation of malware and spyware on cell phones, we’d be making it easier for opponents to bring ransomware to the masses.

But don’t just take it from me — listen to the dozen former U.S. national security and intelligence officials who have been trying to sound the alarm bells for months that these antitrust measures would weaken the U.S. and strengthen the power of China and other adversaries looking to undermine American influence and values. 

There’s no question that Congress is feeling some pressure to do something to update how the tech industry is regulated, but to attack America’s tech sector, which has created millions of good-paying American jobs, is barking up the wrong tree. Nearly everyone agrees that increased regulation is necessary but breaking up major companies that provide low and no-cost services will do nothing to solve the issues faced by the average consumer.

Instead, lawmakers should listen to both the American people and experts in the tech sector by passing a federal data privacy law that protects consumers — no matter where they live — while providing businesses with certainty about their responsibilities.

In the absence of a federal privacy law, states are taking matters into their own hands. Since 2018, 37 states have passed or introduced different, and often conflicting, data privacy laws. Before long, we’ll have a patchwork of laws in all 50 states. That means if you are shopping online and buy something from out of state, your state may outlaw the sale of your consumer data, but it might be allowed in the state where you made the purchase. Complying with 50 sets of privacy laws will mean uneven data protection for consumers and higher costs for businesses. Look no further than California. Since the enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act, there have been some 200 lawsuits involving companies that sell to customers in California despite being located elsewhere.

These are not minor expenses either. A recent study conducted by ITIF showed that over a 10-year period, compliance with these kinds of measures is projected to cost our economy over $1 trillion, more than $200 billion of which would be borne by small businesses. That’s a lot of money going to lawyers that could instead be spent creating jobs, investing in research and development, and ramping up American manufacturing to bolster our competitiveness.

Meanwhile, poll after poll after poll has shown that the American people want lawmakers to prioritize protecting data privacy, not harming our economy by breaking up technology companies that have produced so many of the products they count on every day.

American athletes displayed their greatness in Beijing. Let’s hope American lawmakers half a world away in Washington do the same by passing a federal privacy law that helps U.S. consumers and businesses instead of legislation that would give China a competitive advantage.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to correct the number of states that have passed or introduced different, and often conflicting, data privacy laws.

Linda Moore is the president and CEO of TechNet, the national, bipartisan network of innovation economy CEOs and senior executives.

Tags Anti-trust legislation Big tech China consumer data privacy Digital rights Information privacy law personal data Privacy

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