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Privacy to take center stage in marathon E&C panel hearing

Apr 16, 2024
Illustration of hands drawing red lines over the US Capitol. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Lawmakers are gearing up to debate a host of privacy proposals on Wednesday after decades of inaction.

Why it matters: Consumers and companies alike are eager for a national data privacy law, but year after year lawmakers fail to compromise on how to achieve it.

  • States are taking the lead in passing privacy laws, but most Americans still lack protection.

State of play: Lawmakers have held many hearings on privacy, but Wednesday's Energy and Commerce subcommittee legislative hearing will allow them to dig into specific bills.

  • A markup will likely be at the end of April or early May when they get back from recess.

Here is a breakdown of what each bill does and the roadblocks they face.

The American Privacy Rights Act would enable people to stop data brokers from collecting their information to sell, and companies would have to minimize how much they collect in the first place.

  • Key differences between APRA and the last comprehensive privacy bill include no delay in private right of action and a guarantee that consumers can't be forced into arbitration.
  • Unlike previous bills, APRA would give consumers the right to opt out of algorithms that make decisions on housing, credit, employment and other rights.
  • In his testimony on Wednesday, David Brody of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will discuss how discriminatory algorithms harm communities of color. He'll provide a 40-page appendix of real-world examples to lawmakers.

What we're watching: A key question is where California lawmakers will land. They've opposed previous legislation, contending it would undermine their state laws.

  • The draft bill was released April 7 by E&C Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, and many lawmakers say they're still reviewing it.
  • Cantwell last week said the bill is unlikely to go through any changes before it's formally introduced, though members and outside groups are already thinking of improvements.
  • Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz said in a statement to Axios that ARPA "will need significant revisions before it has any chance of passage."

Bills aimed at protecting children are also up for review on Wednesday, and advocates see these efforts as complementary to comprehensive privacy.

  • The Kids Online Safety Act, a bill that would tackle harmful design features on platforms, such as infinite scroll and beauty features, has been revised to address outstanding concerns, though some complaints persist about adverse impacts on LGBTQ online communities.
  • KOSA and COPPA 2.0, a children's privacy bill viewed as a natural companion to KOSA, finally got House sponsors this month.
  • Sammy's Law would provide parents software to manage their child's online activity on social media, and two other bills would require age verification.

Young People's Alliance advocacy director Ava Smithing said that during her testimony she'll stress that experiences among young people online are nuanced.

  • "Social media serves as a crucial place of connection and socialization. However, because of the way social media companies use our data to exploit us on their platforms, each young person's experience and harms they face differ from one another," Smithing said in a statement.

The intrigue: The issues APRA aims to tackle overlap with other bills up for debate Wednesday.

  • The Algorithmic Accountability Act would require companies to be transparent and report to the FTC how they're testing algorithms for bias in housing and other critical decisions.
  • APRA would require annual reviews of algorithms to ensure they don't put individuals, including minors, at risk of harm.
  • Like APRA, the DELETE Act would target data brokers by empowering people to request that all of their information be quickly and efficiently deleted.
  • Another bill to require companies to provide short-form terms-of-service summary statements is on the schedule.
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