Senate Democrats unveil privacy bill with fines for privacy violations

By:  Diane Bartz, Jonathan Otis
Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic senators proposed legislation on Tuesday that would set penalties for online companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc if they mishandle users’ personal data.

The measure comes at a time when the luster of the Big Tech platforms, once praised as one of the most dynamic parts of the U.S. economy, has faded because of data breaches and discomfort over what information about people is being collected and what it is used for.

The proposed bill, called the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act, would allow people to see what information is collected about them, require that it be deleted and prevent its sale. It also allows consumers to file lawsuits if online businesses break rules.

Companies would also have to get a consumer’s permission to share any sensitive data, which the bill defines broadly enough to include location, biometrics, email address or telephone number.

“The key thing is that obviously you have to have privacy rights. It should be clear and you should know what they are,” Senator Maria Cantwell said in an interview.

Federal privacy legislation has been expected because of industry concern over California’s new privacy law, and the prospect of other states passing measures that effectively create a patchwork of different rules across the country.

Cantwell said that her proposed bill spelled out what Democrats wanted in a privacy law. “We are in discussions with Republicans,” she said.

In addition to Cantwell and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the bill is backed by Senators Brian Schatz and Ed Markey. The bill will be introduced when the Senate comes back from recess, a Cantwell aide said.

Under the measure, a new office within the Federal Trade Commission would enforce new privacy rules. It would be allowed to fine companies for privacy violations. The fines were not spelled out by the bill.

Cantwell’s bill has similarities with California legislation, and would leave that law intact.