Why it matters: Big tech has come under fire recently for improper use of consumer data. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation to create the Data Protection Agency, a new federal government agency charged with protecting consumer data and investigating any mishandling of that data. While this legislation has little chance of bipartisan support, it is yet another indication of the increased scrutiny placed upon companies that rely on customer data for revenue.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation called the Data Protection Act. This act establishes the creation of a new government agency called the Data Protection Agency (DPA). This new agency would be responsible for protecting consumer data and investigating possible misuse of that data.
"Your data is extremely valuable to many companies with unknown motives, who are looking to exploit your data for profit," the senator remarked in a Medium blog post. "As a result, your very existence is being parsed, split, and sold to the highest bidder, and there is very little you — or anyone, including the federal government — can do about it."
According to Sen. Gillibrand, the DPA's primary functions will include enforcing data protection rules through the use of civil penalties as well as to conduct investigations on data privacy issues and share its findings. The DPA would work to ensure fair competition across the internet by promoting tools and resources that strengthen data protection and privacy. Finally, the DPA would advise Congress on issues concerning privacy, such as deep fakes and encryption, as well as represent the United States at international forums.
"Our personal data is under assault. Congress must establish a data protection agency. Senator Gillibrand has put forward a bold, ambitious proposal to safeguard the privacy of Americans."
For now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the primary agency charged with protecting consumer privacy. However, it seems that the agency hasn't been effective in its duties. Facebook was slammed with a $5 billion fine following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy issues but ended up adding $10 billion to its market valuation. Google was fined $170 million for violating COPPA, but much of the responsibility of policing content aimed at children now falls on the creators.
One of the primary hurdles the Data Protection Act will face is the reluctance of the Republican Party to create another government agency. Many hard-line conservatives will bristle at the thought of creating another government bureaucracy.
Still, the actions of almost every American tech giant have come under increased scrutiny as of late. Just days ago, the FTC opened an antitrust investigation against several big names, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook over their acquisitions in recent years. The proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint was in limbo for months because of the lawsuit by several states attempting to block the deal. However, US District Court Judge Victor Marrero recently approved the merger in a controversial ruling.
The Data Protection Act has garnered support from various consumer privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Caitriona Fitzgerald, EPIC's Policy Director, praised Gillibrand's efforts saying, "The US confronts a privacy crisis. Our personal data is under assault. Congress must establish a data protection agency. Senator Gillibrand has put forward a bold, ambitious proposal to safeguard the privacy of Americans".