Time to Move Forward on a National Privacy Framework is Now | Citizens Against Government Waste

Time to Move Forward on a National Privacy Framework is Now

The WasteWatcher

I was recently given a new watch by my husband.  He was excited about the watch because of all the great things it was going to do for me.  Even though I work on technology issues, the only real purpose of a watch in my mind is to tell time.  This is where I ran into trouble.

This watch is what is known as a connected device.  It will tell me when I have a text message or phone call coming in and will monitor my heart rate and count how many steps I take in a day.  What it won’t do until I connect it to my smart phone is tell me what time it is, and therein lies the problem.

I admit I am an anomaly.  I am one of the few people who reads the terms of service and privacy policies whenever I am creating a new online account or an account for other services.  Sometimes I decide not to create the online account or profile either because I don’t like the company’s policies, or I am concerned about third-party sharing agreements.  And thanks to new laws and regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act or the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation that are currently wreaking havoc for small businesses, these agreements and disclosures have become increasingly complicated as companies strive to cover all possibilities in their privacy policies.

My watch is just the tip of the iceberg as far as connected devices are concerned.  Consumers are now able to connect to their home’s heating and cooling systems, security systems, and household appliances, as well as their automobile’s entertainment systems.  Auto insurance companies are asking their customers to attach small connected devices to their vehicles that enable the company to evaluate driving habits and help lower the cost of coverage.  Many homes now have little boxes sitting in their living rooms that provide answers to questions directed to laudable experts such as Alexis, Google, and Siri.  All of these devices access consumer data, and based on provisions embedded in privacy policies, companies can use this data for a variety of purposes.

As policy makers continue to work on privacy legislation, they must ensure that there is built-in consumer choice and control, transparency in how personal information will be used, data minimization and contextuality (does a watch maker really need my date of birth?), flexibility, and data security.  Consumers need to understand why a company is requesting specific information, and what the company intends to do with that information once it is turned over.  Above all else, there must be one national privacy framework to guide businesses who are developing individual privacy policies so they don’t have to navigate a complex patchwork of 50 state laws.  If privacy violations occur, remedies are needed that specifically spell out which agency has the appropriate oversight authority. 

In the Senate, a group of lawmakers including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have been joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and John Thune (R-S.D.) to develop a privacy framework that will lead to a legislative solution to the privacy quagmire.  In the House, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) have been discussing how best to protect consumer data privacy.  Several bills have also been introduced in both the House and Senate that can be used as a starting point in the formulation of a national privacy law.  With all these members working together to find a solution, this is clearly a bipartisan bi-cameral issue that can and should be resolved.

While I can't tell the time on my new watch as it still sits in its box waiting for me to decide how much of my personal information I want to hand over to yet another company, I can tell that the time for Congress to act on an overall national privacy framework is ticking away.