Regulators press Congress on privacy bill

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urged Congress on Wednesday to pass data privacy legislation and beef up the agency’s authority to police large tech companies.

At a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, the five commissioners stressed that gaps in the FTC’s oversight and a lack of resources puts the agency at a disadvantage when going after privacy violations in Silicon Valley.

“These limitations have a critical effect on our ability to protect consumers,” said FTC Chairman Joseph Simons.

What they want: The FTC commissioners asked Congress to update the agency’s statutory authority to give it the power to make rules and to assess fines against companies that break the law. In most cases, the agency currently only has the power to fine repeat offenders, and even then can only level those fines if the company agrees to a settlement or if the FTC wins in court.

House getting to work: There have been growing bipartisan calls over the past year for Congress to pass the nation’s first comprehensive consumer privacy law. A bipartisan Senate working group has been trying to hammer out a draft compromise bill since last summer, but so far lawmakers have produced little in public.

On Wednesday, members of the House subcommittee said that they would work on their own legislation.

“Energy and Commerce Democrats feel like we have an obligation to provide a solid piece of legislation that protects consumer privacy,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the subcommittee.

“We’ve begun conversations now with the Republicans as well,” she continued. “I am very hopeful that the legislation would be bipartisan and I am looking forward to working with all of you on the Federal Trade Commission in designing this legislation.”

“I believe it is important that we work together toward a bipartisan federal privacy bill,” added Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the top Republican on the full Energy and Commerce Committee. “And we are ready and willing to tackle crafting such a bill.”

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