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US legislators reach an agreement on legislation concerning data privacy

Two prominent US lawmakers have announced on Sunday that they have reached an agreement on a bipartisan draft legislation concerning data privacy. This legislation aims to regulate the collection of consumer data by technology companies, empowering individuals to control the use of their personal information and providing mechanisms to prevent its sale or compel its deletion.

The agreement was forged between Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Commerce Committee, and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Under this legislation, individuals will have the authority to determine how their personal information is utilized, with provisions requiring disclosure if data is transferred to foreign entities.

The issue of online privacy protection has been under discussion in Congress since at least 2019, with concerns raised about the practices of social media giants such as Meta Platforms’ Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, and ByteDance-owned TikTok. Despite prolonged deliberations, lawmakers have struggled to reach a consensus on this matter.

In a joint statement, Cantwell and Rodgers outlined the key components of the proposed legislation. The plan would grant the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general broad oversight powers over consumer privacy issues, establishing robust enforcement mechanisms, including a private right of action for individuals. While the bill does not prohibit targeted advertising, it allows consumers to opt out of such practices. Additionally, the FTC would have the authority to levy fines for privacy violations, extending coverage to telecommunications companies.

The legislation also addresses past controversies surrounding privacy breaches by tech giants. In 2019, Facebook reached a $5 billion settlement with the FTC over privacy violations, prompting calls for stricter regulations. Similarly, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, agreed to a $92 million settlement in 2021 related to data privacy claims from US users. Google and its subsidiary YouTube faced a $170 million settlement over allegations of collecting personal information about children in violation of federal law.

Cantwell and Rodgers emphasized that the proposed legislation represents a significant opportunity to establish a national standard for data privacy and security. The bill includes provisions allowing individuals to opt out of data processing in case of changes to a company’s privacy policy and requires explicit consent before transferring sensitive data to third parties. It also enables consumers to take legal action against entities that violate their privacy rights and seeks to prevent discrimination based on personal information.

Furthermore, the legislation mandates annual reviews of algorithms to mitigate potential risks, particularly for vulnerable groups such as youth, and prohibits the use of personal data for discriminatory purposes.

Overall, the bipartisan draft legislation aims to strike a balance between protecting consumer privacy and fostering innovation in the digital economy. It represents a concerted effort by lawmakers to address growing concerns about data privacy violations and ensure accountability among technology companies operating in the United States.

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