Nov 30, 2021 - Technology

Biden administration makes first move on data privacy

Illustration of a woman looking out a window with open curtains build into a computer screen
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Biden administration is launching its first big effort on privacy policy by looking at how data privacy issues affect civil rights.

Why it matters: An administration perspective on privacy policy could be key in developing a long-awaited national privacy law by putting the White House stamp on how to regulate privacy.

Driving the news: The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), the telecom unit of the Commerce Department, plans to hold "listening sessions" and seek comment on the intersection of privacy, equity and civil rights, according to an agency notice.

  • NTIA intends to develop a report on the "ways in which commercial data flows of personal information can lead to disparate impact and outcomes for marginalized or disadvantaged communities."
  • The agency noted that data collection can lead to harm through discriminatory targeted advertising or via software that uses race as a factor in predicting academic success, as detailed by a report in The Markup.

The big picture: The NTIA effort could revive the stalled congressional efforts to pass a federal privacy law by giving lawmakers a blueprint with White House support.

  • The White House hasn't been particularly vocal on privacy thus far, although Biden's competition executive order in July encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to consider crafting privacy regulations.
  • The Build Back Better Act, approved by the House in November, would give the FTC $500 million to start a new privacy bureau within the agency. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate would act as "quickly as possible" to approve the act.

What's next: The listening sessions will be held in mid-December and will focus on civil rights law and privacy, how data collection and use affects structural inequities, and potential solutions.

Between the lines: The effort at NTIA began without an agency leader in place. Biden's nominee to lead NTIA, Alan Davidson, has a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

  • NTIA did not respond to a request for comment.
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