Silicon Valley heavyweights including Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and Twitter (TWTR) took to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a Senate hearing on consumer data privacy. Interestingly, the tech giants largely agreed with senators’ sentiments about giving Americans more control over how companies use their personal data.
Big Tech made it clear Wednesday the U.S. does, in fact, need its own privacy law, and they’re determined to participate in the conversation about how Congress shapes that law.
“We believe privacy is a fundamental right, not a privilege,” said Twitter global data protection officer Damien Kieran. “That means when people trust us with their data we should be transparent about and provide meaningful control over what data is being collected, how it is being controlled and when it is being shared. We also believe that companies should be held accountable to the people that trust them with their data.”
Tech wants a say
The Senate hearing follows a series of data breaches, leaks and hacks that have left consumers and government officials questioning how to force companies to take greater responsibility over user data, and how those same users can reclaim their data for themselves.
Top of mind for the representatives of Amazon, Apple, AT&T (T), Charter (CHTR), Google and Twitter, as well as the Senate Commerce Committee members, were California’s recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Both pieces of legislation force companies to provide consumers with a means to request that companies delete data they have about them. The laws also give consumers the ability to request that businesses not collect data, while still receiving the same service as consumers who have their data collected. And it gives them the ability to take their data with them from one service to another.
Tech companies spent small fortunes and countless hours on compliance from the date the GDPR was adopted in 2016 to its enforcement date in May 2018. But Congress has been far slower to respond to security breaches and data hacks than its E.U. counterparts.
To that end, California crafted its own legislation to codify consumer privacy rights in June. But the CCPA was rushed through the State Senate and Assembly in a week to cut off a potential ballot measure this fall related to consumer privacy. That’s because ballot measures are harder to amend once they’re passed than legislation passed by lawmakers. In other words, California’s privacy bill will likely change going forward. But the tech representatives still expressed their dislike of the bill.
“Because the CCPA was enacted so quickly, there was little opportunity for thoughtful review, resulting in some provisions that ultimately do not promote best privacy practices,” said Amazon VP and associate general counsel Andrew DeVore.
More importantly for tech companies, though, is that by passing its own privacy legislation, California could set a precedent for other states to craft their own similar, but different bills. And if meeting the GDPR’s standards ate into tech companies’ time and coffers, then having to do the same thing for 50 different states would be an even more massive undertaking. To avoid that, Silicon Valley wants to ensure the federal government passes legislation that supersedes any state bills. But the senators said that any laws passed at the federal level need to have bite.
“Our goal has to be that any law we pass out of this committee is a strong law,” Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said. “We don’t need to pass weak laws in Washington that overrule strong rules.”
Despite how much the tech companies said they want to work with the Senate Commerce Committee, nothing of substance really came of Wednesday’s meeting outside of a public guarantee that the parties want a new piece of legislation that will protect data, while preventing a patchwork of laws to take hold across the country.
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