Proposed Senate Bill Tackles Data Privacy With Creation of New Federal Agency

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and co-sponsor Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced the introduction of the Data Protection Act of 2021, a bill that would establish a dedicated digital protection agency tasked with addressing growing problems in data privacy. Sen. Gillibrand’s news release, issued on Thursday, explained that the proposed executive body, the Data Protection Agency (DPA), would have substantial regulatory and legal power.

The proposed law first surfaced last year, but now boasts stronger protections, “[i]n the spirit of all of the tech antitrust regulation chatter going on right now,” an article by TechCrunch’s Taylor Hatmaker commented. Some of the improvements, Sen. Gillibrand’s press release stated, include merger oversight, privacy harm and discrimination protection, and high-risk data practice measures. The bill would also commission research into the social, ethical, and economic impacts of data collection.

In addition, Sen. Gillibrand’s announcement noted that the DPA “would have the authority and resources to effectively enforce data protection rules—created either by itself or Congress—and would be equipped with a broad range of enforcement tools, including civil penalties, injunctive relief, and equitable remedies.” This, TechCrunch remarked, comes in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) perceived failure to punish the nation’s largest tech companies for nasty behavior.

The technology news outlet also explained that while this bill lacks the bipartisan support enjoyed by other big tech-antitrust bills introduced in the House of Representatives last week, it could gain traction due to presently peaking interest in taking on tech’s heaviest hitters. According to Sen. Gillibrand, the bill has the backing of leading technology, privacy, and civil rights organizations and experts.

“In today’s digital age, Big Tech companies are free to sell individuals’ data to the highest bidder without fear of real consequences, posing a severe threat to modern-day privacy and civil rights. A data privacy crisis is looming over the everyday lives of Americans and we need to hold these bad actors accountable,” Sen. Gillibrand remarked. “The U.S. needs a new approach to privacy and data protection and it’s Congress’ duty to step forward and seek answers that will give Americans meaningful protection from private companies that value profits over people.”