Democrats Introduce New Online Privacy Rights Legislation

The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) is a stalled bipartisan effort to protect consumers’ rights to privacy and prevent companies from hiding what they are doing with user data. To reinvigorate the debate, a group of Democrats, led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), top Democrat in the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced their version of the federal privacy law. “[Privacy rights] should be like your Miranda rights — clear as a bell as to what they are and what constitutes a violation,” she said.

The Hill reports that, under the proposed law, companies that “fail to adhere to the law … could face costly fines and lawsuits.” The law introduced by Cantwell “would give users more control over their data, allowing them to prevent their information from being accessed by third-party companies without their permission.”

It would also require the Federal Trade Commission to create new regulations on how companies would ask permission to use data and treat biometric data and increase its “ability to go after tech companies over privacy violations.” The legislation includes “new civil rights protections, ensuring that companies are not using sensitive data about race, sexual orientation, ethnicity or other protected identifiers to advertise products that touch on employment, housing or credit.”

The Senate Commerce Committee has worked on bipartisan federal privacy legislation for months. During the summer, Cantwell and Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) engaged in negotiations, but “those talks have yet to bare any significant drafts of potential legislation.” In this stasis, Democrats “sought to strengthen their hand in the negotiations by putting out their ideal privacy legislation.”

Wicker and other Republicans have responded that “several provisions in Cantwell’s legislation, including allowing individuals to sue tech companies over privacy violations, are non-starters.” Republicans also oppose the bill’s provision that would “allow states to write their own privacy laws.”

Sources stated that “it’s unlikely any bipartisan legislation will be introduced ahead of 2020.” In the Senate Commerce Committee, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) are co-sponsoring the bill, while Wicker has emphasized that it does not have bipartisan support. The Committee will hold a data privacy hearing next week.