Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has revived bill to create a new federal agency to protect Americans from the invasive practices of tech companies that operate in their own backyards.
Last year, Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Data Protection Act, a proposal to create an independent agency to address modern privacy and technology concerns that existing state regulators have been inadequate to address .
“The US needs a new approach to privacy and data protection, and it is the duty of Congress to move forward and seek answers that will give Americans meaningful protection from private companies that value profits over people,” said Senator Gillibrand.
The revised bill, which maintains its core promise of a new “data protection agency,” is endorsed by Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown and returns to the new Democratic Senate with a few changes.
In the spirit of all of the technology antitrust law currently circulating, the 2021 version of the bill would also empower the DPA to review any major technology merger with a data aggregator or other business where 50,000 people’s user data changes hands.
Other additions to the bill would establish a civil rights bureau to “advance data justice” and enable the agency to assess and punish high-risk data practices such as the use of algorithms, biometric data, and the collection of data from children and other vulnerable groups.
Gillibrand calls the idea of updating regulation to address modern technology issues “critical” – and it is not alone. Democrats and Republicans rarely find common ground in 2021, but a series of new bipartisan antitrust laws show that Congress has finally understood the importance of containing the most powerful tech companies so they don’t lose the chance altogether.
The Privacy Act lacks the bipartisan sponsorship that the new home tech laws enjoy, but with an interest in adopting big tech at an all-time high, it could get more support. Of all the bills currently targeting the tech industry, the tech industry is unlikely to be going anywhere without more bipartisan interest, but that doesn’t mean their ideas shouldn’t be considered.
Like several other proposals floating through Congress, this bill recognizes that the FTC has failed to meaningfully punish large tech companies for their bad behavior. In Gillibrand’s vision, the DPA could face modern regulatory challenges where the FTC has failed. Other proposals would give the FTC new enforcement powers or cash that could help match the agency’s bite with their bark.
It is possible that modernizing the tools available to federal agencies may not be enough. It won’t be easy to contain more than a decade of overgrowth of the tech industry’s data giants, especially since the stash of American data that made these companies so rich is already in the wild.
A new agency aiming to wrest control of this data away from powerful tech companies could bridge the gap between Europe’s own robust data protection and the lack of federal regulation that we have seen in the US, the power vacuum itself.