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Gillibrand proposes data protection agency that could enforce its own rules

Gopal Ratnam, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday said she would propose a bill that would create a new federal agency to safeguard Americans' data and equip it with powers to write and enforce regulations.

Private companies with known and unknown motives are collecting people's data and selling it to the highest bidders around the world, Gillibrand wrote in a post on Medium outlining why she was introducing the bill. The New York Democrat did not reveal bill text, however.

"As a result, your very existence is being parsed, split, and sold to the highest bidder, and there is very little you -- or anyone, including the federal government -- can do about it," Gillibrand wrote.

Gillibrand's bill, titled the Data Protection Act, would create an agency whose director would be picked by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a five-year term. The entity would enforce its own rules as well as any federal data privacy laws enacted by Congress.

The agency would use a broad set of tools including civil penalties, injunctive relief, and other remedies, and also have the authority to conduct independent investigations to inform people about how their data is being collected and used.

The agency also would become a specialized hub for technical details on how to handle false videos known as deepfakes, encryption issues, and other matters to advise lawmakers accordingly.

Gillibrand's proposal is the latest of several from lawmakers of both parties in the House and the Senate addressing various aspects of data privacy. Earlier in the week Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., proposed to dismantle the Federal Trade Commission as an independent entity and merge it with the Justice Department so as to avoid duplicative efforts in overseeing tech companies. He has not put his idea into a formal bill or draft yet.


Other bills attempt to address the larger issue of giving Americans the right to decide who collects what data on them and how the information is used.

A House bill backed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna G. Eshoo, both Democrats of California, also would create a standalone Digital Privacy Agency led by a director who would be Senate confirmed.

The proposals are jostling for attention even as efforts to come up with bipartisan federal data privacy legislation have stalled. Technology companies are increasingly focusing their attention on about nine states that are considering privacy legislation after California passed a sweeping data privacy bill last year.

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