GOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity

GOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyRepublicans face critical test of integrity on drug price controls Hillicon Valley: Facebook releases audit on bias claims | Audit fails to calm critics | Federal agencies hit with fewer cyberattacks in 2018 | Huawei founder says company faces 'live or die' moment Facebook releases audit on conservative bias claims MORE (R-Mo.) on Monday announced he will introduce legislation that would block internet companies from tracking users' activity online by creating a so-called Do Not Track list. 

The bill would create a Do Not Track database for users to opt into if they no longer want companies to collect their data beyond what is "necessary" for those services to run. It would be modeled after the federal "Do Not Call" registry, which allows users to say they no longer want to receive telemarketing calls — though that list has been panned for failing to stave off the deluge of telemarketing calls Americans receive every day.

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Hawley, a freshman senator who has sought to make a name for himself as a prominent critic of tech giants, said in a statement released Monday morning that the Do Not Track database would give users more "control" over their information online.

"Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent," Hawley said. "They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet."

"The American people didn't sign up for this, so I'm introducing this legislation to finally give them control over their personal information online," he added. 

The legislation would force companies to stop tracking the activity of users who sign up for the Do Not Track list beyond what is "indispensable" or else face significant fines. The companies would face fines of up to $1,000 per day per person for "willful or reckless violation" and up to $50 per day for "negligence." 

The bill would also prohibit companies from profiling or discriminating against users who register for the list. 

The so-called Do Not Track list has been somewhat of a pipe dream for privacy activists for over a decade, with multiple efforts to come to an agreement stalling or breaking down at the federal level. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) endorsed a Do Not Track initiative, and lawmakers including Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Epstein death sparks questions for federal government Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would have empowered the FTC to create the list.

The efforts to create a federally mandated registry never panned out amid enormous pressure from top tech companies, which often rely on data collection to run their businesses. The working group tasked with coming to an agreement on how to implement the pro-privacy registry was ultimately unable to come to a consensus after years of wrangling.

Fellow tech critics Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Joseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in 2015 introduced legislation attempting to revive the efforts, but it stalled in committee

Hawley's announcement of the bill comes as lawmakers in both chambers seek to work out proposals for the nation's first comprehensive privacy law, efforts that have gained steam during a larger backlash against top companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and more.