Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led Sens Biran Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Amy Klobuarch (D-MN) in unveiling the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA), which proposes tough new punishments for Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley tech giants that mishandle their users’ personal data. The sweeping new online privacy bill aims to provide people their “Miranda rights” for the digital age. Rights consumers would gain from COPRA include:
- The right to be free from deceptive and harmful data practices; financial, physical, and reputational injury, and acts that a reasonable person would find intrusive, among others
- The right to access their data and greater transparency, which means consumers have detailed and clear information on how their data is used and shared
- The right to control the movement of their data, which gives consumers the ability to prevent data from being distributed to unknown third parties
- The right to delete or correct their data
- The right to take their data to a competing product or service
Essentially, COPRA would allow people to see the personal information that is amassed about them and block it from being sold. The effort marks a significant attempt by Congress to write the country’s first-ever national consumer-privacy law after years of false starts — and massive data scandals that illustrated the costs of the US government’s inaction.
Sen Cantwell’s bill shares some similarities with CA’s rules, which her proposal, if passed, would leave intact — while allowing other states to pass privacy laws of their own. To enforce the rules, bill sponsors have proposed granting new powers to the Federal Trade Commission to police against a wide array of practices that could cause consumers harm. Under a decades-old law, the watchdog agency already can probe tech giants, but it often can’t bring tough punishments, including fines, until a company commits its second offense. Sen Cantwell’s bill removes that obstacle for privacy investigations, while also setting aside financial penalties it obtains for a special consumer-relief fund. It does not create an entirely new federal privacy agency, however, as some public-interest advocates have sought, partly out of concern that the tech industry is “already so big that it’s going to outmaneuver a lot of bureaucratic responses,” she said.
The bill has long odds of advancing in Congress. But it’s sure to spark fresh debate along partisan lines about how lawmakers should respond to tech companies’ repeated mishandling of consumer data.