Lawmakers in Washington have begun hearings on data privacy. The first of these hearings began on Wednesday and more likely it is expected to follow in the coming months. It's the first time the US Congress is bringing the issue of data privacy into scrutiny and it promises to be intriguing.
The Senate Commerce Committee is planning to create a new federal agency that will be fully dedicated to privacy. The committee is also hoping to lay the groundwork for an in-depth federal law on privacy in the near term. Although the issue of data privacy has been one of the hot issues of public interest, the US Congress has failed to pass meaningful laws designed to effect change in the sector.
However, more and more individual states are starting to pass privacy legislation and as such, Congress is feeling increased pressure to also act at the federal level. Lawmakers are banking on the Federal Trade Commission to spearhead efforts for new privacy laws. It is also expected that such privacy laws will be just a small part of broader tech regulations that the Biden administration is hoping to put in place.
The president has noted many times that there is a need to break up big tech monopolies. But efforts to reach that level appear to have stalled, at least in the last few years. Tech companies are also hoping for a broad legal framework that allows input from all stakeholders. Although the FTC could still enact and enforce privacy regulations through executive action, it will be very limited.
But it seems most lawmakers don’t see it that way. In fact, there has been increasing pressure on the FTC to take the lead role in enacting privacy-related regulations for tech companies. Just last week, several senators, including members of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote a letter to the FTC chair asking the agency to begin the process of writing its own privacy rules.
The letter also came after US President Joe Biden nominated Alvaro Bedoya to become the third FTC Democrat. Bedoya is a known critic of facial recognition and an advocate of privacy. He will likely be one of the leading voices as the FTC looks to craft new rules that protect consumer privacy in the future.
There is also discussion within Congress to add up to $1 billion to the FTC’s budget. The money would be used to create a privacy bureau under the agency that would be charged with the sole purpose of enacting privacy laws.
The money is expected to be part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that is yet to pass the Senate. There is consensus within the senate and among experts in the privacy space that even though the FTC could do a lot to enact privacy rules, the agency is not funded or equipped enough to do this.
Building enough capacity at the agency is a big priority and it may take longer. But so far Congress has already started the process and things are looking up.