Jun 14, 2022 - Technology

Congress takes another swing at online privacy legislation

Illustration of a laptop with an open lock at the top

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lawmakers are making a major push on passing privacy legislation as the clock ticks down toward the midterms.

Why it matters: Congress has remained stalled on crafting privacy protections, but the latest effort comes from key lawmakers who have the power to push a bill forward.

Driving the news: The House Energy & Commerce Committee will debate privacy legislation — including the draft bill from Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — at a hearing Tuesday.

  • The trio's draft American Data Privacy and Protection Act would allow consumers to opt out of targeted advertising and require companies to minimize the data they collect, among other measures.
  • Speakers scheduled for the hearing include former FTC chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen, now co-chair of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, and Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to discuss the need for a U.S. privacy law.
  • Separately, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has her own draft privacy bill.

Catch up quick: Cantwell and Wicker negotiated for months on privacy legislation but ended 2019 with dueling privacy bills.

  • The latest effort is the first time lawmakers have reached a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a comprehensive privacy proposal.

What they're saying: Apple CEO Tim Cook offered his support for a comprehensive federal privacy law in a letter to the lawmakers Friday, urging them to advance something.

  • "We recognize that there are outstanding issues to be resolved, but the areas of agreement appear to far outweigh the differences," Cook wrote in the letter. "Your drafts would provide substantial protections for consumers, and we write to offer our strong support towards achieving this shared goal."
  • Google, Amazon and Microsoft didn't comment on the draft bill ahead of Tuesday's hearing, while Meta told Axios it is reviewing the proposal.

The other side: Cook's show of support came after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce circulated a draft letter opposing the bill, calling it "unworkable." The draft letter has not been finalized or sent.

  • “We support a national data privacy law but remain concerned about the impact of the introduction of a private right of action and are engaging with the bill sponsors on this and other issues," Jordan Crenshaw, vice president of the U.S. Chamber’s Technology Engagement Center, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a collection of more than 100 organizations, including the American Psychological Association and Fairplay, are calling on Cantwell and Wicker to mark up the Kids Online Safety Act this month.

  • The bill from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) would require platforms to disable "addictive" features for children and allow kids to opt out of algorithmic recommendations.
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