Ever since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story broke, privacy has been the talk of the town in Washington, DC, and conventional wisdom is that Congress will begin debating comprehensive privacy legislation in earnest in 2019. In preparation, members of Congress are starting to drop their message bills and discussion drafts. Public Knowledge has evaluated each of the proposals so far, and we offer our initial take here.
One of the first lessons I learned as an advocate at Public Knowledge? “Regulation” and “rulemaking authority” are dirty words in too many parts of Capitol Hill. This is perhaps unsurprising to people who have worked on tech and telecom policy longer than I have. Or, for that matter, to people who work on environmental policy or any number of other issues. Nonetheless, this is my case for why I am pro-agency rulemaking authority, and you should be too.
At the end of June, California enacted what has been billed as a comprehensive privacy law. By all accounts, it was a rush job, negotiated in a week behind closed doors in a desperate and successful attempt to keep Californians for Consumer Privacy Campaign Chairman Alaistair MacTaggart’s privacy initiative off the November ballot. As sometimes happens, the law’s proponents and a few reporters may have overhyped the legislation – both given its current contents and because many expect it to change before its effective date in January 2020.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. By now we know the basic facts: Aleksandr Kogan, purporting to be a researcher, developed an authorized Facebook application. As was Facebook’s practice at the time, when users connected the app to their Facebook accounts, the app scooped up not only the users’ personal information, but also their friends’ personal information. In this manner, Dr. Kogan was able to amass information about 50 million Facebook users – even though only 270,000 individuals used the app. Dr. Kogan then, exceeding his authorized use of the data, funneled that information to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that purported to engage in “psychographics” to influence voters on behalf of the Trump campaign.
More than eight in ten American voters support strong net neutrality protections. So, it should be a no-brainer for Congress to act to guarantee strong open internet protections. The most straightforward way to do this would be for Members to co-sponsor and then vote for the Congressional Review Act Resolution (CRA) to restore the popular 2015 net neutrality rules. But, nothing in politics is ever that simple.