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California lawmakers call for new privacy cop

Photo of Rep. Anna Eshoo at a podium next to a photo of Rep. Zoe Lofgren seated at a dais.
Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren. Photos: Tom Williams/Getty Contributor; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Staff.

A pair of California Democrats want to create a new federal agency to protect U.S. consumers' privacy as part of an online privacy bill unveiled Tuesday.

The big picture: Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren said their Online Privacy Act would create a "Digital Privacy Agency," give users the right to correct and delete information, and impose new restrictions on companies' use of data. The Silicon Valley representatives are setting a high bar for federal privacy legislation amid bipartisan legislation efforts.

Details: The lawmakers contend the Federal Trade Commission is not up to policing privacy and argue the sector needs its own regulator, much like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Food and Drug Administration.

  • "While some are calling for the FTC to enforce privacy, we believe the agency is toothless and has issued the equivalent of parking tickets to companies," Eshoo said in a call with reporters.
  • The proposed Digital Privacy Agency would be an independent body run by a presidential appointee with up to 1,600 employees.

The bill also would prohibit companies from using private communications — including email — to target ads, and it would allow consumers to decide how long companies keep their data.

What's next: The lawmakers said the bill is a starting point, but one they believe sets a standard for what a digital privacy law should include.

  • "[We] thought that if the representatives from Silicon Valley took a strong stand for privacy rights, that it would be meaningful to the rest of Congress," Lofgren said. "That's why this bill is as bold as it is."