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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Wells Fargo agrees to pay $3 billion to settle consumer abuse charges

Clients use an ATM at a Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles, Calif. Photo: Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Wells Fargo agreed to a pay a combined $3 billion to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday for opening millions of fake customer accounts between 2002 and 2016, the SEC said in a press release.

The big picture: The fine "is among the largest corporate penalties reached during the Trump administration," the Washington Post reports.

Bloomberg offers to release women from 3 nondisclosure agreements

Mike Bloomberg. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Mike Bloomberg said Friday his company will release three women identified to have signed nondisclosure agreements so they can publicly discuss their allegations against him if they wish.

Why it matters, via Axios' Margaret Talev: Bloomberg’s shift in policy toward NDAs comes as he tries to stanch his loss of female support after the Las Vegas debate. It is an effort to separate the total number of harassment and culture complaints at the large company from those directed at him personally. That could reframe the criticism against him, but also protect the company from legal fallout if all past NDAs were placed in jeopardy.

Coronavirus spreads to more countries, and U.S. ups its case count

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the United States.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,250 people and infected almost 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

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