GAO Report Suggests GDPR-Like Internet Data Privacy Law

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), an auditing agency, issued an independent report that encouraged Congress to develop an Internet data privacy legislation similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The House Energy and Commerce Committee requested this GAO report two years ago; a February 26 hearing will discuss the report’s findings and the possibility of drafting such legislation. Prospects for such a law now is weaker due to partisan divides over federal regulation.

ZDNet reports the GAO report “recommended that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) be put in charge of overseeing Internet privacy enforcement.” In fact, the FTC has been doing so but “its authority and enforcement abilities have been limited.”

GAO researchers, citing the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, also mentioned the growing danger to privacy posed by the Internet of Things, automakers collecting data from “smart car” owners, “the lack of federal oversight over companies that collect and resell user information… [and] the lack of protections for mobile users against secret data collection practices.”

To arrive at its conclusions, “GAO analyzed the FTC’s previous 101 user Internet privacy investigations but also took into consideration feedback from the private sector, academia, advocacy groups, other government agencies, and nine former FTC and FCC top-ranking officials, including seven former commissioners.”

House Energy and Commerce chair Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) stated that, “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.” The FTC is also currently considering fining Facebook multi-billions of dollars “for a series of privacy violations, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “Silicon Valley and its Republican allies are pushing for a national standard that would override state regulations,” including California’s much stricter law passed in 2018. Democrats, however, are offering “fierce resistance.”

“Republicans and Democrats seem to still be far apart on the best way to address this problem,” said Georgetown Law Institute for Technology and Policy’s Gigi Sohn.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani noted that, “Republicans have frequently attacked social media and content companies for a perceived liberal bias that mirrors their base in the San Francisco Bay Area,” and that they tend “to support states over federal authority when they butt heads.”

“There’s a little bit of inconsistency in not recognizing the importance of states in this area,” she said.

In the U.K., meanwhile, WSJ reports that the House of Commons Digital, Cultural, Media and Sports Committee “rebuked Facebook in a new report that calls for regulation and intensified scrutiny of social-media companies.” Its report “called for the creation of an independent regulator that has the power to launch legal action against companies in breach of the code that could result in hefty fines.”

“If companies become monopolies they can be broken up, in whatever sector,” said the report. Some of the committee’s recommendations are “likely to be incorporated in U.K. government policy proposals to be put forward in coming months.”