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WASHINGTON — On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D–New Jersey) and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Washington), along with Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R–Mississippi), released a draft of the new American Data Privacy and Protection Act. The bipartisan bill aims to establish a comprehensive national data-privacy and data-security framework.

For years, civil-liberties, digital-rights and racial-justice groups like Free Press Action have argued that data abuse disproportionately targets and impacts populations already experiencing rampant racism and discrimination in housing, banking, employment, education and other sectors. In 2019, Free Press Action and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released model legislation designed to combat such harms.

Agencies like the Federal Trade Commission already have tools they could use to prevent such unfair and abusive practices, and the newly constituted FTC has made promising moves in that direction. But legislation like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act could strengthen the FTC’s hand, making its mandate and its powers far clearer.

Free Press Action Co-CEO Jessica J. González said:

“To say that it’s high time for real progress on a federal privacy bill would be a tremendous understatement. We’ve been waiting for more than a decade for Congress to tackle online privacy and data-security issues. The country sorely needs Congress to create protections against the exploitation and discrimination caused by companies’ unfettered collection, buying, selling, sharing and outright abuse of people’s most personal information.

“We’ve only scratched the surface in our review of the full draft released today. Based on that preliminary look we’re very pleased with the structure and coverage of the bill. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act would prohibit data collection, use, selling and sharing in any way that violates civil rights. It would also stop any collection or use of sensitive data — like Social Security numbers, genetic information, biometric information and precise geolocation information — without individuals’ express, informed and unambiguous consent to such practices.

“The draft bill also requires companies to make privacy policies and notices available in each language in which they provide a product or service. This is a welcome attempt to eliminate the shameful disparity between what tech companies do and disclose in English versus what they convey in other languages. And while the bill strengthens FTC enforcement and guidance by adding agency staff and providing clear rulemaking authority for the Commission to implement these new protections, the legislation also sets up an eventual private right of action for individuals to go to court. 

“While there’s more work to be done, Free Press Action is incredibly grateful to Chairman Pallone, Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member Wicker and their staffs for reaching this point. Far too often, advocates find ourselves handing out an ‘A’ for effort in circumstances like these, without any hope of passing good new laws. This bipartisan deal between key committee leaders on both sides of the Hill makes it much more likely that we will move beyond praising good efforts to achieving an actual legislative victory on this crucial topic.”

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