Recess? Time to Get Busy on Privacy, Congress!

Yes, we know it’s that time of year when you pull out your summer reading list, spread out your towel on the beach, and lay back to get some well-deserved quite time and relax. Meanwhile, consumers continue to have their privacy comprised on a daily basis. What price do we pay for our privacy? If the latest string of data breaches and settlements are any indication, the cost is way too much!

The recently announced settlement with the credit bureau Equifax Inc. is valued at $700 million. Two years ago, due to the massive data breach at Equifax, 147 million people had their personal (including some sensitive) information stolen. The stolen information included names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers. Through the terms of the settlement, victims can now receive free credit monitoring for a certain number of years and although there was originally going to be some financial compensation offered ($125), now that payout offer has been rescinded. The costs to consumers continue to add up.

Next, the Federal Trade Commission recently announced a $5 billion fine on the social media company, Facebook. This record-breaking fine wasn’t even the maximum amount the FTC really wanted to impose (according to the Washington Post); apparently the agency was originally aiming for a much higher fine for this the social media giant. The fine is for the company’s violation of users’ online privacy and its previous practice of collecting and sharing data (with Cambridge Analytica). This privacy violation has “cost” consumers the trust of their online use and interactions. Rebuilding this trust, and protecting consumers online information is not an option, it’s an absolute necessity.

Earlier this year, I wrote that after the 2018 midterm elections, the nation has an “unprecedented diversity represented by this Congress, we can feel confident that all points of view are being heard.” This evolution of the legislative branch provides an opportunity to represent the best interests of all consumers. In our digital world, consumers from each and every community represented by this new diverse Congress, have asked for online privacy protections. We are well past the time when we should be delivering these protections to consumers.

With this “unprecedented diversity” within Congress, we should feel confident that all points of view are being heard, but only if they are playing a role in this debate. It’s past time to renew consumer confidence in our online services and devices. Let’s get it done, Congress. Our online privacy is an important protection that just can’t get pushed into next year, then the next election cycle.

While the word is that members of Congress and staff continue to work on crafting privacy and data breach legislation behind closed doors, the clock is ticking. It is critically important that Congress understand the urgency of this issue. Consumers desperately require a national privacy law. Some may think that allowing a few states to enact protections is prudent, but this is the wrong course for consumers. Privacy protections that will vary from one state to the next, offered in some states, but not all, offer an unfair and inadequate system of safeguards for consumers.

The best way to offer consistent, strong, privacy protections is for Congress to act with a sense of urgency and move bipartisan national privacy legislation forward. Now. Consumers can no longer afford the cost of the loss of their privacy.

Debra Berlyn is the president of Consumer Policy Solutions and the executive director of Project GOAL, a project to raise awareness of both the benefits and challenges of innovative new technologies for the aging community.

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