Feb 13, 2019

Government watchdog says it's time for privacy debate

Photo: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Government Accountability Office, which gives nonpartisan advice to Congress, said in a report released Wednesday that "this is an appropriate time for Congress to consider comprehensive internet privacy legislation."

Why it matters: The finding adds fuel to calls for a national privacy law, as state and foreign regulators crack down on data-hungry companies like Google and Facebook.

Details: Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee commissioned the GAO report in 2017 and released it Wednesday, after receiving it earlier this year.

  • "Comprehensive internet privacy legislation that establishes specific standards and includes traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking and broader civil penalty authority could enhance the federal government’s ability to protect consumer privacy," said the GAO's report.
  • The agency's staff interviewed people linked to Google, Facebook, Apple and other internet companies. They also talked to outside academics, internet service providers and advocates who argue for tougher privacy rules.
  • In their interviews, the agency staffers who worked on the report identified a split between many industry representatives who believed the current system worked fairly well, while outsiders said it needed to be modified to protect consumers.

The big picture: The release of the report coincides with a bigger push among lawmakers of both parties — including now-in-charge House Democrats — to craft a privacy agenda.

  • "From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the unauthorized disclosures of real-time location data, consumers’ privacy is being violated online and offline in alarming and dangerous ways,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone in a statement.
  • “This detailed GAO report makes clear now is the time for comprehensive congressional action on privacy that should include ensuring any agency that oversees consumer privacy has the tools to protect consumers," he said.
  • The committee also announced Wednesday it would hold a hearing later this month on privacy. Its Republican-controlled Senate counterpart will host its own hearing in February as well.

What's next: House Democrats have yet to coalesce around a single piece of privacy legislation or a group of bills.

Go deeper: Read the whole report

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Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images

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What he said: "I respectfully disagree. The legal rules do not necessarily cover all circumstances, especially the ones I found myself in."

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Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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President Trump on stage during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Ohio. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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The state of play: Mandy Cohen, the state's health and human services secretary, said last week that the GOP should "plan for the worst" as mass gatherings will be a "very big challenge" if the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to increase, per NPR.