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New Bill Would Jail CEOs for Privacy Violations

A new Do Not Track bill could establish privacy and cybersecurity standards for companies and executives, and could even impose jail time for those who fail to comply.

A privacy bill recently proposed by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to force tech companies to use a “do not track” option, limiting their use of consumers’ personal data. The bill would also give the FTC the “teeth” to impose fines or jail time on companies and executives found in violation, something Wyden says the FTC is sorely lacking.

Wyden introduced a discussion draft of the proposed legislation last November and has been trying to drum up for support for the bill ever since. As a Democrat and member of the minority party in the Senate, Wyden’s bill has a tough road ahead. However, recent data privacy scandals have brought data privacy to the forefront of the national conversation which could help boost support for the bill, especially if more privacy violations are discovered.

What the Do Not Track Bill Will Mandate

According to the bill’s discussion draft, the bill would enable the FTC to:

  • Establish minimum privacy and cybersecurity standards.
  • Issue steep fines (up to 4 percent of annual revenue), on the first offense for companies and 10-20 year criminal penalties for senior executives.
  • Create a national Do Not Track system that lets consumers stop third-party companies from tracking them on the web by sharing data, selling data, or targeting advertisements based on their personal information. It permits companies to charge consumers who want to use their products and services but don’t want their information monetized.
  • Give consumers a way to review what personal information a company has about them, learn with whom it has been shared or sold and challenge inaccuracies in it.
  • Hire 175 more staff to police the largely unregulated market for private data.
  • Require companies to assess the algorithms that process consumer data to examine their impact on accuracy, fairness, bias, discrimination, privacy and security.

The Do Not Track Bill Aims to Protect Privacy and Level the Advertising Playing Field

Companies who primarily rely on online advertising, such as Google and Facebook, have opposed restrictions on the use of consumers’ personal data. Other companies who do not rely as heavily on online advertising, however, are calling for cyber privacy laws.

David Hoffman, Intel’s associate general counsel and global privacy officer, told The Oregonian: “The bill is a tremendous step towards effective comprehensive U.S. privacy legislation. Providing more authority and resources to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is a critical foundation for robust privacy protection.”

If the bill passes, companies would be penalized for making false claims regarding their privacy practices. Corporate executives who “misrepresent their compliance” could even face jail time.

Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said: “Senator Wyden’s proposed consumer privacy bill creates needed privacy protections for consumers, mandating easy opt-outs from hidden tracking. By forcing companies that sell and monetize user data to be more transparent about their data practices, the bill will also empower consumers to make better-informed privacy decisions online, enabling companies like ours to compete on a more level playing field.”

Senator Wyden summarized the proposed bill in a press release this past November: “It’s time for some sunshine on this shadowy network of information sharing. My bill creates radical transparency for consumers, gives them new tools to control their information and backs it up with tough rules with real teeth to punish companies that abuse Americans’ most private information.”

Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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