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Opinion: Congress should act now on internet data privacy rules

Interest in data privacy issues has reached a fever pitch in recent months due to breaches of consumer data and questions about how various apps and websites access and utilize user information.

Consumers of online services enjoy many benefits, and while providing some of our data in exchange for these services can be a reasonable expectation, consumers often don’t fully appreciate the amount of information that is being captured and stored about them as they incorporate internet-enabled apps into their daily lives.  

Social media networks can track everything from clicks to time spent to engagement with other users, and websites often keep information relating to purchases and even browsing.  In some instances, this works to the consumer’s benefit; retailers can use past purchases to offer coupons or deals on products that may be of interest, and data can be used to customize the online experience.  Other times, data is used for less innocuous purposes and can be bought, sold, stolen, lost, or compromised.  

I firmly believe that the only way to ensure the protection of this sensitive personal information online is for Congress to pass a federal data privacy law that applies across the entire internet.  Legislation to protect consumers, promote competition, and impose a uniform standard for data protection is long overdue. 

I applaud the work that Congress has done thus far toward crafting common sense data privacy legislation for the American people.  In fact, our own Senator Josh Hawley has been outspoken on the need for national legislation on this issue and has even sponsored related legislation.  

More than ever, it is critical that this effort move forward, as many states across the country are considering their own privacy rules and legislation. The makeshift regulatory regime that would result from multiple state privacy laws would present an unmanageable burden of compliance for smaller companies and start-ups. 

We are all consumers of internet services and, as such, are all affected by data privacy concerns. Data is a powerful tool, and businesses and consumers alike realize that it can be used to improve our everyday lives. However, Americans deserve to be well informed and comfortable with how our data is being collected, shared, and used for ad-supported content and other purposes online.

A uniform set of federal data privacy rules will offer consumers a greater sense of security and enhance consumer confidence. The best way to achieve strong online privacy rules is for Congress to pass a law that applies consistently to all companies that collect and use consumer data.

There is widespread agreement in both parties about the need for greater rules around data security and privacy, giving Senator Hawley and his colleagues in the United States Congress a unique opportunity to act on this issue.  I hope that they will seize the moment and take this chance to act.