Ron Wyden: It's Time Congress Helped Americans Protect Their Privacy
from the mind-your-own-business dept
Americans today are faced with a dilemma ? there is a vast universe of products to let us control everything in our lives with a voice command or touch of a button. We can unlock our doors, turn on the heat, track our exercise routines and our baby monitors and perform a million other tasks in ways that make life easier or more efficient.
But these conveniences carry with them the danger that the data generated will be used against us.
Far too often, information that a government or company can collect and retain, is being collected and retained, and then shared or sold with other companies, marketers or agencies in ways that Americans never consider when they decide to buy a new thermostat. When the government or private corporations can tap into the stacks of information, these smart devices that make our lives easier also amount to spies working against our interests.
There is no good reason that Americans should have to compromise on privacy to benefit from the digital age. Consumers want smart devices, but we also want companies and the government to mind their own business when it comes to our personal information.
Over the past decade, I?ve made protecting Americans? privacy against unnecessary government surveillance one of my top priorities. And following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I?ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to create a commonsense plan to secure our privacy from corporations that haven?t been good stewards of private information.
That?s why I wrote a draft privacy bill, and, after a year of soliciting feedback from experts, introduced the Mind Your Own Business Act last fall.
It?s based on three core principles: First, corporations should be required to provide full transparency, in easy-to-understand language, about how they collect, use and share their customers? data — and they should be held to those commitments. There should never be another scandal like we saw with wireless carriers, when phone companies shared real-time location data with bounty hunters, scammers and creepy exes without their customers? knowledge.
Second, users need far more control over how their data is shared. The Mind Your Own Business Act would put teeth back into the Do Not Track option that has become essentially useless today. Under my bill there would be a single website where consumers could click a button to say no company could share your information with a third party without your express permission.
Under my bill consumers can choose whether to allow sharing data with third parties and targeted ads, and companies would have to offer tracking-free versions of their products that don?t cost more than the average revenue generated from a user?s data. And it makes sure low-income families can get free privacy protection, so privacy isn?t a luxury good.
Third, there need to be real consequences for corporations that break the rules. My bill follows the European privacy law and California?s Consumer Privacy Act to add fines up to 4 percent of annual revenue and even the possibility of jail time for executives who lie to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about protecting users? privacy.
Those are some key points, but my plan does a lot more as well. Because privacy is also about making sure companies protect the data they have, my bill directs the FTC to set baseline privacy and cybersecurity standards and beefs up the number of people and resources the agency enforce those rules. It requires companies to assess their algorithms to detect whether they result in biased results and to fix problems they find.
My bill will create a healthier internet economy in two separate ways: First, consumers can directly choose to pay for ironclad privacy, instead of data-scooping free services. But even users who don?t opt out will see major improvements in privacy from the baseline rules and new transparency requirements. Companies often have no choice but to terminate their shady deals with third party data dealers, once they become public. With my bill, companies will be forced to disclose exactly who sees your data, and they will face steep penalties for lying about it.
Americans are sick of being faced with a feeling of vague unease after clicking through pages of fine print. Congress needs to step up, add guardrails for our privacy and stop the endless series of Sophie?s choices between technological advances and personal privacy. We must also reform the legal treatment of ?business records? so that information created to make technology work better for you and your family is treated like private, personal effects, not subject to government prying without a warrant.
It’s time to level the playing field between consumers and the corporations who profit from our data, and force companies to finally take Americans? privacy seriously.