Jonathan Spalter

National Privacy Protections Needed Now

Whether or not Congress flips blue or remains red after the election, there is a purple issue the next Congress must immediately tackle. It is bipartisan, affects America’s global leadership, and is a priority for every consumer who uses the internet: digital privacy.

In our hyper-connected digital lives, consumers across the political spectrum expect and demand strong internet privacy protections. Internet users should be certain that sharing images, exchanging messages, visiting websites, engaging in commerce and sending sensitive data are the types of acts the entire internet ecosystem is obligated to respect and protect.

We agree.

America’s innovative broadband providers are united by the principle that digital privacy is sacred and government has a role in ensuring that consumers can both confidently use the internet and maintain their privacy to the degree that they are comfortable.

In spite of growing bipartisan momentum in Washington and among technology companies about the need to act, the absence of a single federal privacy policy has encouraged states and international governing bodies to fill the vacuum and effectively dictate how Americans operate online.

Unless Congress steps up on privacy, others are going to keep stepping in with well-meaning but counterproductive privacy plans.

The new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), for example, gives consumers the right to prevent their personal information from being sold to third parties. This seemingly innocuous provision does not distinguish between sensitive and non-sensitive information and could impact how consumers receive online advertising or valuable discounts associated with store rewards programs.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes a similarly expansive definition of personal information and makes consent to use or share information more difficult to obtain.

These first-mover laws have made constructive contributions to the privacy conversation and deserve credit for responding to mounting consumer concerns. But at the end of the day these patchwork approaches risk creating consumer “confusion” in the name of consumer “protection” and turns the EU, or a single state, into the de facto regulator of digital privacy in the United States.

Instead, all players in our internet economy should be working together to avoid further policy fragmentation and build on the strengths of existing approaches to develop our own comprehensive, unified privacy blueprint that puts consumers first, builds digital trust and applies to all companies interacting with individuals on the internet.

Congress should lead that effort by developing a framework with privacy principles that include: effective security, ample consumer choice and flexibility, and reliable notifications when breaches occur – also applied uniformly to all companies operating on the internet. This framework should have mechanisms that are interoperable with existing multinational privacy regimes.

We know the ones and zeroes of our digital infrastructure are neither red nor blue. From our largest global enterprises to our smallest digital entities, millions of consumers are counting on Congress – regardless of who wins the midterms – to come together to develop a pro-investment and pro-innovation privacy plan that delivers peace of mind to consumers.

Our companies are committed to doing our part to shore up digital trust and give Americans the confidence that no matter what platform, device or network they choose, guardrails will be in place to protect their digital privacy and support our growing and interdependent internet ecosystem.


Note: This op-ed originally appeared in Multichannel News.