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 HawleyHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Trump faces tricky choice on Supreme Court pick FBI director warns that Chinese hackers are still targeting US COVID-19 research 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 SpeierOvernight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump's military controversies House to vote on 'I Am Vanessa Guillén' bill Overnight Defense: Trump's battle with Pentagon poses risks in November | Lawmakers launch Fort Hood probe | Military members can't opt out of tax deferral 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 MarkeyA game theorist's advice to President Trump on filling the Supreme Court seat Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing 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.