Congresswomen reintroduce Online Privacy Act

Democratic Reps. Ann Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, both from Silicon Valley, reintroduced on Thursday the Online Privacy Act, a bill that creates user data rights, limits companies’ collection and use of user data, and establishes the Digital Privacy Agency (DPA) to enforce privacy laws.

The Online Privacy Act aims to protect individuals, encourage innovation, and restore trust in technology companies. Eshoo and Lofgren previously introduced the Online Privacy Act in 2019. The revised bill keeps prior provisions for data subject rights. The bill grants users the right to “access, correct, or delete their data,” and it creates the right for users to decide how long companies can keep their data. The bill places clear limits on the amount of data companies collect, process, disclose and maintain. Companies are prohibited from using data in discriminatory ways, and consent must be received from users in plain, simple language.

The revised bill also keeps prior provisions for the creation of the Data Privacy Agency (DPA) to enforce users’ privacy rights and to ensure companies follow the law. The DPA would be an independent federal agency with funding for up to 1,600 employees. The DPA could impose damages up to the same maximum amount as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “I believe that the FTC lacks the staff, the expertise and the culture to take [this on],” Eshoo said. “This is a monumental task of protecting privacy.”

The revised bill includes new provisions, including a provision for an Office of Civil Rights within the Data Privacy Agency. Further, it authorizes privacy regulators and state attorneys general to enforce violations of the bill alongside the agency. Individuals are allowed to appoint nonprofits to represent them in private class action lawsuits.

“Americans’ right to privacy is being grossly disregarded in the digital age. Too often, our private information online is stolen, abused, used for profit, or grossly mishandled,” said Eshoo. “Our legislation will restore and protect the American people’s right to privacy by ensuring every person has control over their own data, companies are held accountable for privacy intrusions, and the government provides tough but fair enforcement.”

“Recent revelations about tech company abuses make clear that Congress must take action. We need to target the most widespread problems online,” said Lofgren. “The Online Privacy Act solves problems by protecting the data of users and setting clear, firm standards for online companies. This bill prevents the abusive collection and retention of personal information. If companies can’t collect data, they can’t use that data to manipulate Americans for profit.”