surveillance

US Senate Proposes Act to Protect Data Nationwide

First US federal law for data privacy has support of tech industry

US Senate During Sunset
David Hughes
By David Hughes

Proposals for a US federal privacy act, cited as the “Data Care Act”, have been introduced by 15 Democratic US senators.

There is currently not a single piece of federal legislation that legally obligates companies to take reasonable steps to protect and not misuse user data comparable to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The act details how online service providers shall “reasonably secure individual identifying data from unauthorized access” and “promptly inform an end user of any breach of the duty described.” This would also apply to any third parties with whom such information is shared. Failure to conform to these reasonable standards could result in fines overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

Leading proponent of the bill, Senator Brian Schatz, proposed greater responsibility on the part of the tech industry, saying in a blog post: “Just as doctors and lawyers are expected to protect and responsibly use the personal data they hold, online companies should be required to do the same.”

Senator Tammy Duckworth added her support, stating: “It’s abundantly clear that Congress must do more to protect Americans’ personal data online.”

This proposal comes following multiple hacks and breaches of sensitive information within the last year, affecting massive organizations including Google, Marriott, Uber and the US Postal Service.

It also emerges the day after Google CEO Sundar Pichai answered questions concerning privacy and data protection at a Congressional Committee. Pichai, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before him, approved of a theoretical federal data act when saying: “We are better off with more of an overarching data protection framework for users, and I think that would be good to do.”

This legislative move has been welcomed by the trade group Internet Association, which represents tech firms such as Facebook, Netflix, Google, and Microsoft. The group issued a statement on the proposition, arguing “federal legislation should promote responsible data practices.” It was also backed by similar organisations such as Free Press Action, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and The Center for Democracy and Technology.

Widespread industry backing should give the bill some impetus, but it is yet to be seen whether it will gain bipartisan support and pass into law.