Cantwell Continues to Push for Consumer Privacy Rights, Strong Enforcement Provisions at Commerce Committee Hearing

Ranking Member Cantwell: “Enforcement is going to be the key” to protecting privacy rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on federal data privacy legislation, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, continued her push for strong online consumer privacy protections and robust enforcement provisions. She also highlighted her new legislation, the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA), which she unveiled last week with Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

“We want to protect consumers’ privacy rights,” Senator Cantwell said. “We believe to do that, you need strong enforcement and mechanisms to make sure that those rights are protected… If your privacy rights are violated, you need to be first able to find out about it, and then you need to have the power to do something about it as well.”

At the hearing, Cantwell laid out some of the key rights protected in her bill, as well as the importance of strong enforcement provisions.

“You should have the right to make sure your data is not sold. That you have the right to make sure your data is deleted. That you have the right to make sure that you’re not discriminated against with data, and the right to have plain old transparency about what is being done on a website,” Cantwell said. “All of these things are tangible and meaningful for consumers. I say they just need to be clear as a bell so that people understand what their rights are and so they know how to enforce them.”

All five witnesses at the hearing acknowledged the need for consumer privacy rights, as well as the need to specify and protect consumers from harmful data practices.

Cantwell also referenced a recent statement from Ari Ezra Waldman, the Director of the New York Law School’s Innovation Center, to highlight the importance of enforcement to protect consumer privacy:

“The director of the New York Law School’s Innovation Center, Ari Ezra Waldman, recently made a statement that really resonated with me. He said, ‘we can pass any laws we want, but if there’s no way to enforce them, then what’s the point?’”

In closing, Cantwell also called attention to the evolving challenges of combatting digital misinformation such as deep fakes, and applauded a recent announcement by the Knight Foundation, University of Washington, and Washington State University of a new Center for an Informed Public to combat misinformation and give the public new tools to discern between fact and fiction. Cantwell’s legislation promotes new research and study by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) to build a deeper understanding of the potential risks of this technology.

Ranking Member Cantwell has long been a leading advocate for online protections for American consumers. As Congress has worked to develop privacy legislation, she has repeatedly called for comprehensive privacy protections. She has led the fight to protect and restore net neutrality rules to keep a free and open internet. She has also championed the importance of investing in cybersecurity measures throughout the U.S. economy and pushed federal agencies like the FTC to take a more robust role in protecting Americans from privacy threats.

More information on Senator Cantwell’s legislation is available HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with witnesses is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.

The full bill text of Senator Cantwell’s legislation is HERE, and a one-pager is available HERE.

Here’s what consumer and civil rights advocates and privacy experts have to say about Senator Cantwell’s legislation:

Georgetown University Law Center Professor David Vladeck: “This bill marks an important step forward for Congress. The bill gives consumers the right to regain control of their personal information —whether it is collected, and how it may be used. The bill not only codifies privacy as a right —a measure long overdue —but it also recognizes that ‘rights’ that are unenforceable are empty gestures. For that reason, the bill not only restores control of personal information to consumers, but equally important, the bill gives consumers and the Federal Trade Commission real tools to hold companies accountable when they collect information without permission, when they fail to reasonably safeguard consumers' information, or when they misuse that information. And the bill is careful to recognize that federal law can coexist with state privacy laws. Kudos to the bill's sponsors for their willingness to take on the internet giants, put the brakes on the indiscriminate and ubiquitous data collection and restore the ability of consumers to control their personal data.”


Justin Brookman, Director of Privacy and Technology Policy at Consumer Reports: “This is strong legislation that directly goes after companies that build secret profiles about what we do online and off. We appreciate the bill sponsors’ leadership on data privacy, and we look forward to working with Congress to finally pass legislation to protect our personal information. This bill is an important step toward treating privacy as a fundamental right for all Americans.”

University of Washington Law School Professor Ryan Calo: “This legislation represents a sea change, particularly in the way federal law thinks about privacy harm. As the bill makes abundantly clear, violating the privacy rights and expectations of consumers is harmful in and of itself, a harm that must be redressed by regulators and courts. Such a statement by Congress is sorely needed and will have a big impact on consumer privacy in America.”

Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology Executive Director Laura Moy: "For years, Americans have been clamoring for privacy—not just for incremental improvement, but for a transformative shift that will finally restore some sense of control to 21st century consumers. The Consumer Data Rights Act answers that call. It gives consumers meaningful rights and establishes robust enforcement mechanisms that will incentivize companies to comply. Just as important, this legislation directly addresses harmful uses of data, including discrimination. I applaud this bill and wholeheartedly hope to see it pass."

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League: “African Americans and people of color are over indexed as consumers of traditional and social media. As such, our data are uniquely vulnerable to exploitation, including civil liberties abuse, targeted disinformation campaigns designed to suppress the vote, and exclusion from employment, health, educational, and housing opportunities. I commend the bill sponsors for their leadership and on including important protections for civil and human rights in the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act. This legislation is an important first step. In the 21st century, privacy legislation must ensure data cannot be used in ways to undermine hard-fought civil rights. We look forward to working with House and Senate leadership on comprehensive data privacy rights legislation.”

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “In today’s online economy, we have seen how the misuse of personal data can exacerbate discrimination in housing, employment, credit, and education. The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act prioritizes civil rights by ensuring that individuals’ personal data cannot be used for discriminatory purposes and that big data algorithms are assessed for bias.”

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Policy Director Caitriona Fitzgerald: “The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) is outstanding. The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act gives consumers meaningful rights, holds companies accountable, and protects stronger state safeguards. EPIC reviewed the bills pending in Congress and has now given the Consumer Data Rights Act an A-. With the addition of a data protection agency, the bill would earn an A and establish a comprehensive approach for privacy protection for the U.S.”

Federal Consumer Programs U.S. PIRG (and WashPIRG) Senior Director Edmund Mierzwinski: “This strong privacy bill implements, among others, several principles any federal privacy bill must start with and then build onto. First, it grants consumers strong, enforceable rights against all privacy harms, explicitly including a violation of the act's provisions. Second, it preserves stronger state laws and the right of the states to innovate.”

Mr. Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy: “Research demonstrates that African Americans use social media at a disproportionately high rate; thus the NAACP is deeply appreciative of efforts to preserve the privacy of our data and to stop disinformation campaigns which may suppress and / or diffuse our voting power or limit our health, education, and employment opportunities to name a few.  We look forward to working with the Ranking Member and the other sponsors of this important legislation whose intent is to protect our civil rights and civil liberties, and to protect our most basic personal information.”