Experts: Federal law, money for FTC would help combat privacy breaches

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Senators on Wednesday held the first in a series of hearings about consumer data privacy, with Democrats and Republicans in agreement that something must be done to stop online scams and data breaches but still divided over the best way to go about it.

Wednesday’s hearing included testimony from technology groups and consumer privacy advocates who say Congress must hurry to pass sweeping policy laws to protect Americans from data breaches, identity theft and unwanted data collection. One report referenced during the hearing said cases of identity theft alone increased 375% between 2017 and 2020.

“Congress needs to get this right and they need to do it now,” Morgan Reed, president of The App Association, which represents small technology companies, told senators.

David Vladeck, the former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the FTC should be a major player in combatting data breaches, but it needs more funding to do it well.

“Your constituents are at risk today and that risk grows as privacy-averse business models grow,” Vladek testified. “The FTC is really the only privacy cop on the beat. … It’s time that Congress gave it the tools it really needs to be in this fight.”

He said the agency needs more technology experts and engineers.

Democrats have included $1 billion for the FTC in their multitrillion-dollar spending plan, but that package is caught up in Congress amid a battle over their agenda and whether the cash for the FTC will make it to the finish line is unclear.

Republicans say money alone will not solve the problem.

“I’m afraid this funding would waste taxpayer money on unsuccessful agency litigation,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said during the hearing.

Some experts argue Congress must first create federal privacy rules to replace a patchwork of state laws.

“That grants privacy rights to consumers in all 50 states simultaneously,” Reed, of The App Association, said.

Nine Democrats last week called on the FTC to draft such rules, but Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., argued the best way forward is legislation crafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

“Anything short of congressional action would create significant regulatory uncertainty for businesses and confuse consumers,” Wicker said.

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