A group of nine Democratic senators, including Richard Blumenthal and Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan on Monday, encouraging the FTC to begin a rulemaking process that sets a national standard for data privacy and security.
"Americans' identities have become the currency in an unregulated, hidden economy of data brokers that buy and sell sensitive information about their families, religious beliefs, healthcare needs, and every movement to shadowy interests, often without their awareness and consent," the letter reads.
The letter also takes aim at tech companies' own "unchecked access to private personal information," which they use to "create in-depth profiles about nearly all Americans and to protect their market position against competition from startups." The lawmakers argue that Big Tech companies have consistently violated data privacy laws while escaping due penalty, receiving "wrist-slap punishments" that are largely inconsequential.
Despite frequent hearings and statements on the subject, Congress has failed to act on these issues. But lawmakers clearly see an opening with the new FTC and are asking the agency to step in and write rules that would offer broader protections for consumer data, including prohibitions on the targeting of children and teens and opt-in rules for the use of personal data.
Before she became chair of the FTC, Khan herself wrote critically about Big Tech's data-driven ad models. President Biden also recently nominated privacy hawk Alvaro Bedoya, founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, to serve on the FTC.
"Consumers deserve strong and enforceable privacy safeguards in the digital economy," the letter reads. "Opening a rulemaking would be a powerful step toward addressing this long overdue need."