American consumers have never had more choices than they do today. When people go online, they see ads for products they want from companies they know, news from sources they choose, and the fastest routes to and from work. This is all possible because of the innovations of the digital economy and the effective use of “big data.”
But data can be misused and abused, violating consumers’ privacy. There have been many horror stories over the last few years of high-profile companies not taking proper care of their users’ information, sometimes even willfully mishandling it. The reputation of these companies has suffered and they need to restore trust.
With more and more personal information being shared online by more and more people, consumers’ just concerns about privacy and security also require action. Personal data should be guarded.
As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I am working on a bipartisan basis with my colleagues to develop strong and meaningful data protections.
Why A Strong Federal Privacy Standard is Necessary
When Mississippians drive across the state line to Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, or Louisiana, they should not expect internet privacy standards to change. The same should be true when they travel throughout the United States. Whenever possible, Americans deserve the same online protections wherever they go or reside.
That means internet privacy regulations should not vary across state lines. Not only would 50 different privacy standards leave Americans uncertain about what is being done with their data, but a patchwork of state-level interventions could also lead to uncertainty for businesses, bad internet service, and slower economic growth.
California has passed its own privacy regulations, which could take effect next year, and 93 other bills are making their way through other state legislatures. Whatever the pluses or minuses of specific ideas, laws written by different states with different priorities and politics could be contradictory and impossible for companies to navigate.
One of the greatest aspects of our digital economy is that it brings Americans together and does not see where one state ends and another begins. Republicans and Democrats on the Commerce Committee are working hard to preserve that. It is the role of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, and federal privacy law should be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, our nation’s experts on the matter.
An Opportunity Too Important to Pass Up
Any American business owner could tell you that they have always collected data about their customers. The difference now is that more data can be collected and used more effectively than ever before. As consumers engage in commerce, whether it is online or in-person, they should have more authority over their data, know how it is being used, and exercise control over how companies use it.
The deployment of 5G – the next generation of wireless communications – will exponentially increase the amount of data shared online. It will also benefit consumers with new products, services, and choices, generating up to 3 million new jobs and $276 billion in investments in the United States alone.
The opportunities presented by 5G are too important to pass up, but no marketplace can function without trust. Consumers should not have reasons to be nervous that they might have unknowingly signed away their information online. We can strengthen laws that prohibit online platforms from mishandling consumer data.
A federal privacy framework can provide that trust. It will require delivering clear guidelines for providers and empowering citizens with the knowledge to navigate safely one of the most dynamic and exciting parts of the American economy.