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Democratic senator introduces bill to jail tech executives for lying about privacy violations

Democratic senator introduces bill to jail tech executives for lying about privacy violations
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.), one of the toughest tech critics in Congress, on Thursday introduced his long-awaited bill that would jail tech executives for lying to the government about privacy violations. 

Wyden's bill, the Mind Your Own Business Act, would also offer users unprecedented control over how their data is used and shared, enabling them to tell websites when they don't want their online activity to be tracked across the internet. 

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And the legislation, which Wyden started floating with a discussion draft last year, threatens steep fines and prison terms of up to 20 years for executives at companies that "misuse" data.

The statement about the bill mentioned Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democrats press Facebook, Twitter on misinformation efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Hillicon Valley: Facebook content moderators demand more workplace protections | Ousted cyber official blasts Giuliani press conference | Tech firms fall short on misinformation targeting Latino vote MORE as an example of a tech executive who could face jail time if found to be lying to the government.

"Mark Zuckerberg won’t take Americans’ privacy seriously unless he feels personal consequences," Wyden said in a statement. "Under my bill, he’d face jail time for lying to the government." 

Multiple lawmakers have raised concerns that Zuckerberg misled Congress during last year's series of contentious hearings in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, though Facebook has disputed that.   

Facebook declined to comment.

Wyden's bill would also allow consumers to review and dispute the personal information companies have collected about them and significantly beef up the resources allotted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the century-old federal agency responsible for policing technology and the internet.

It would allow the FTC to issue immediately fines for privacy violations and hire 175 staff members to police the "largely unregulated market for private data."

“I spent the past year listening to experts and strengthening the protections in my bill," Wyden said.

"It is based on three basic ideas: Consumers must be able to control their own private information, companies must provide vastly more transparency about how they use and share our data, and corporate executives need to be held personally responsible when they lie about protecting our personal information," he added. 

The legislation is also likely to bolster recently reinvigorated efforts to create a "Do Not Track" system, which users could opt in to if they no longer want companies to follow their data across the web. 

State attorneys general would be given the opportunity to enforce the bill's privacy-first regulations, lifting "more cops on the privacy beat."

And it would allow individual users to sue companies for violating any of the privacy regulations, a clause that has become a sticking point between Democrats and Republicans working up a bipartisan federal privacy bill. 

The Mind Your Own Business Act emerges as key lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee continue to negotiate over a draft of the nation's first comprehensive privacy bill. Those efforts have largely stalled in recent months.