Advocates urge senators to work with consumer groups on privacy law

Advocates urge senators to work with consumer groups on privacy law
© Greg Nash

A coalition of advocacy organizations on Friday urged a new Senate privacy working group to give consumer and privacy groups a more prominent role in crafting the nation's first comprehensive data privacy law.

The letter from top privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, comes a day after Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift defends staying out of the 2016 election: 'I just knew I wasn't going to help' The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Senate passes sweeping budget deal, sending it to Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) convened the first meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee's task force on technology, which will focus on drawing up recommendations for a privacy law.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We urge you to work closely with consumer and privacy organizations in addition to your meetings with industry groups," the advocates wrote. "For too long, tech companies have determined the privacy policies in the United States. The consequence has been spiraling levels of data breach and identity theft."

Thursday's meeting featured representatives from tech companies Mozilla, Snap, Salesforce and Match, the parent company of several top dating apps.

"Industry groups have resisted the passage of meaningful privacy laws and when strong privacy laws are enacted, they come to Washington and ask you to preempt those safeguards," the advocacy groups wrote in their letter. "We can no longer let industry groups and ineffective agencies decide how much privacy Americans may have."

A Blackburn spokeswoman told The Hill her office has extended invitations to some consumer advocacy groups, noting "we do think their voices should be heard in the discussion on privacy legislation."

The tech industry for months has pushed Congress to pass a privacy law that would override state laws, an effort that comes ahead of implementing of a tough new privacy law in California next year. Critics, including many of the groups that signed onto Friday's letter, have accused the tech industry of attempting to pass a weaker law at the federal level in order to avoid harsh penalties at the state level.

Tech companies and trade groups have argued they are seeking to avoid a "patchwork" of state laws, which is more difficult to navigate.

Blackburn told reporters after Thursday's meeting that the working group meeting focused on defining "harms," or those uses of data that can impair or hurt customers. She also said they discussed whether to offer more resources and authority to the Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked with overseeing privacy issues but has been accused of failing to adequately protect consumers.

The Senate Commerce Committee has a separate privacy working group, and lawmakers in the House are crafting their own proposals.

Blackburn told reporters that the Judiciary Committee has a "piece of the puzzle."

"If we’re going to get serious about doing this, Judiciary needs to be looking at what we would bring to the table ... rather than waiting for something to come to us," she said.

Updated: 1:54 p.m.