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Panel: Strong data privacy law could come under new administration

Expect to see a sweeping consumer data privacy law passed by Congress over the next several years, senior executives at three big tech firms said Tuesday at CES 2021.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said Tuesday during CES 2021 panel titled “Privacy and Trust with Amazon, Google and Twitter.”

More Americans are becoming aware of the information that big tech companies are gathering and collecting: In the latest 2019 report by the Pew Research Center, roughly six in 10 Americans believe it is not possible to go through daily life without having their data collected by companies and/or the government with some regularity.

And while some Internet companies are facing intense scrutiny as a result of the U.S. Capitol riot – some of which were planned and discussed in advance on various social media platforms – executives at several Big Tech firms believe a new incoming administration could pass a sweeping federal law that would rein in what they can do with personal data.

“I think the stars have been aligned for some time, but perhaps now as a new administration comes in, we can see that change,” added Kieran. “I think there’s good reason to do it, and I think there’s bipartisan alignment to get there.”

European counterparts implemented the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information from individuals within the European Union member states.

Since Europe implemented its data privacy law more than two years ago, “even in that short period of time, I think we can agree that consumer awareness about privacy is an issue that has dramatically increased globally,” said Anne Toth, director of Amazon’s Alexa Trust.

Heightened awareness

Some U.S. states – including California, Nevada and Maine – have consumer privacy laws in place, but there is no federal privacy law.

“It remains to be seen if we will get one in the Biden administration,” Toth said. “That’s a big open question, but I do think that in terms of raising awareness and changing people’s behaviors and giving them access to more information and greater transparency. It has raised awareness of privacy in a very different way than we had prior to GDPR.”

The two state laws passed by California to bolster consumer privacy protection could be a model for other states to consider, according to Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer.

“If history is any lesson, that is going to be a catalyst for a tremendous amount of state level legislative activity across the next couple of years,” Enright said of California’s privacy laws. “That can dramatically increase the chances that we can develop the political will at the federal level to do something, just to create a uniform rule of law so that companies know what the rules of the road are and individual users know what their rights and protections are.”

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter.

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