Why The Tech Industry Wants Federal Control Over Data Privacy Laws Though new data privacy laws in Europe and California have put the tech industry on the defensive, it's moving to craft federal legislation that would pre-empt state laws.

Why The Tech Industry Wants Federal Control Over Data Privacy Laws

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2018 has been a big year for supporters of data privacy. Europe enacted a tough law in May, and then California passed comprehensive legislation in June. And tech companies are feeling the heat, so they are working behind the scenes on a federal privacy law. But they are not just trying to influence it. They're actually starting to write it. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has the story.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Facebook is still assessing the fallout from the latest epic hack in which at least 50 million user accounts were compromised. We heard about it because in order to comply with Europe's new data privacy law, the company has to make hacks public within 72 hours of discovering them. A California privacy law, if it's enacted as written, would go even further and allow consumers to sue and potentially collect enormous damages for exactly this kind of data breach. Ernesto Falcon is with the digital advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

ERNESTO FALCON: They don't want to entertain the possibility that they would be liable to individuals for doing some sort of harm from all the data that they collect.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Early this summer, a who's who in tech attended a high-level private meeting in San Francisco organized by the Information Technology Industry Council. According to two people with knowledge of the meeting, it was there that Facebook's top lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, warned the executives about the threat the California privacy law posed to all of them. If the California law spread to other states, he said, it would present an even bigger problem than Europe's privacy law. So companies have decided to weigh in before new laws start coming in from all fronts. Again, privacy advocate Falcon.

FALCON: You have just this year a data broker law from Vermont. And then dating back even further, the state of Illinois has a biometric law that Facebook has opposed and has been trying to amend.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The warning at the San Francisco meeting sparked an industry-wide effort to not just get behind federal privacy legislation but to actually write it. And while there's no one document that lays out their proposal yet, according to two people familiar with the process, the working drafts so far include two things, and the first, a pre-emption clause that would essentially override any privacy laws the states might pass, and the second, an agreement that enforcement of the law be left to the Federal Trade Commission. Ariel Fox Johnson of the advocacy group Common Sense Media says that while the FTC's a watchdog, it's not a very aggressive one.

ARIEL FOX JOHNSON: So I don't know what the FTC can do besides, like, put out guides or try to go after people for violating statements that they've made in their privacy policies.


JOHN THUNE: Good morning. A decade from now, we may look back and view this past year as a watershed with respect to the issue of consumer data privacy.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Late last month, officials from Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Twitter testified before the Senate commerce committee about privacy and the need for a new federal law.


JERRY MORAN: A yes or no question for each of you - would your company support federal legislation to pre-empt inconsistent state privacy laws?

TEMPLE-RASTON: And all the executives said they would.


LEN CALI: Yes, Senator. In...



DAMIEN KIERAN: Yes, Senator, we would support...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Tech companies are working the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue as well. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was at the White House just recently, and Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow announced last week that tech executives would be back for a big meeting later in the month.


LARRY KUDLOW: We're going to have a little conference. The president will preside over it. We will have the big Internet companies, the big social media companies.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A reporter at the White House asked Kudlow if the invitation list would include big tech players like Facebook, Google and Twitter. Kudlow nodded and said, that's our hope. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.


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