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SILICON VALLEY-FUNDED PRIVACY THINK TANKS FIGHT IN D.C. TO UNRAVEL STATE-LEVEL CONSUMER PRIVACY...

SILICON VALLEY-FUNDED PRIVACY THINK TANKS FIGHT IN D.C. TO UNRAVEL STATE-LEVEL CONSUMER PRIVACY PROTECTIONS

Lee Fang
April 16 2019, 8:39 a.m.

AFTER YEARS OF ignoring the issue, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are suddenly engaged in a furious fight over enacting national legislation to establish basic online privacy rights for consumers. As with the crafting of much legislation dealing with complicated issues, legislators are relying on experts to help codify the consumer protections.

In a twist that is all too familiar in Washington, D.C., however, many of the groups that have positioned themselves as expert voices on consumer privacy are pushing for a bill that hews closely to tech industry interests. Lawmakers who are famously ignorant on technology issues are hearing largely from an army of industry lobbyists and experts funded by social media companies, online platforms, data brokers, advertisers, and telecommunication giants — the very same corporate interests that profit from the collection and sale of internet data.

Take the Center for Democracy and Technology, one of the most prominent privacy-centered Beltway think tanks. The group is considered to be well-respected among congressional staffers, routinely testifies before committees on privacy legislation, and is a prime mover in the national online privacy bill discussion.

Late last year, the organization circulated draft federal privacy legislation that would nullify major state-level regulations. In March, when the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing of the session on how to formulate a federal consumer privacy standard, the center’s Privacy and Data Project Director Michelle Richardson testified.

The Center for Democracy and Technology is also awash in corporate money from the tech sector. Amazon, Verizon, and Google are among the corporate donors that each provide over $200,000 to the group. AT&T, Verizon, Uber, and Twitter are also major donors.

Last Wednesday, the group hosted its annual gala, known as “Tech Prom,” which brought together lobbyists and government affairs officials from leading Silicon Valley and telecom firms. Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft purchased tables at the event and served as sponsors, a privilege that came in exchange for a $35,000 donation to the center.

“Every one of these groups working on privacy that takes corporate money should return it.”
These industry-funded think tanks are pushing legislation in a direction that would have weak enforcement mechanisms, give consumers limited means for recourse, and perhaps most importantly for the industry, roll back state-level privacy standards being enacted by state legislatures.

The stakes of the online privacy fight could have ramifications the world over. American standards on data collection could shape political and business decisions across the world, said Jeff Chester, president of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy think tank that opposes overturning of state-level privacy laws.

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https://theintercept.com/2019/04/16/consumer-privacy-laws-california/

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