Federal data privacy bill introduced by 15 US senators

The proposal has industry support.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read

The US doesn't have a single data privacy law that applies to all fifty states. On Wednesday, a group of 15 US senators indicated it wanted to change the status quo, introducing the Data Care Act.

The bill (PDF) would require companies that collect personal data from users to take reasonable steps to safeguard the information. The act also has provisions to prevent them from using the data in ways that could harm consumers. 

If the bill becomes law, the US Federal Trade Commission would be in charge of implementing it.

"People have a basic expectation that the personal information they provide to websites and apps is well-protected and won't be used against them," Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii who is sponsoring the bill, said in a press release.

The bill is a sign that the idea of data privacy legislation is having its moment with US lawmakers. The tech industry has been calling for a federal privacy law since California passed the nation's toughest data privacy law in June. Two other federal privacy bills have been introduced this year. 

In November, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, introduced a bill that could give CEOs jail time for lying in mandatory annual reports to the FTC . In September, Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat from Washington, introduced a separate privacy bill.

Schatz's bill comes the day after Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the House Judiciary Committee that his company would like to see federal privacy regulations. On Wednesday, groups with tech industry ties were quick to embrace the Data Care Act. They included the Center for Democracy and Technology, which has advisory board members from companies including Facebook, Apple , Verizon, Google, Twitter, Mozilla and Microsoft.

"We commend Senator Schatz for tackling the difficult task of drafting privacy legislation that focuses on routine data processing practices instead of consumer data self-management," the nonprofit organization said in a statement that was included in Schatz's press release. "It signals an important shift in how Congress views consumer privacy issues and foreshadows a serious privacy debate in 2019."

The Internet Association, a group that advocates for tech companies' interests and includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, PayPal and Twitter as members, also expressed support in a statement. "Internet companies act as responsible stewards of people's data and agree with Sen. Schatz that federal legislation should promote responsible data practices," the organization said, adding that it will continue to work with lawmakers toward passing a broad data privacy law.

The bill would let states to pursue their own legal actions against companies for privacy violations, but would "allow the FTC to intervene" in those enforcement efforts, according to Schatz's press release. The bill gives the FTC the power to fine companies for breaking the privacy law, but doesn't include jail time for CEOs.

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