Eshoo and Lofgren Reintroduce Sweeping Privacy Legislation

November 18, 2021
Press Release
Silicon Valley Congresswomen Propose Creating Strong User Rights, Establishing Digital Privacy Agency & Placing Privacy Obligations on Companies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) and Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) reintroduced the Online Privacy Act, legislation that creates user data rights, places limitations and obligations on companies collecting and using user data, and establishes the Digital Privacy Agency (DPA) to enforce privacy laws.

The updated legislation includes several improved provisions and additional privacy protections, including adding an Office of Civil Rights in the DPA and authorizing state privacy regulators (e.g., California Privacy Protection Agency) to enforce the legislation alongside state attorneys general.

“Americans’ right to privacy is being grossly disregarded in the digital age. Too often, our private information online is stolen, abused, used for profit, or grossly mishandled,” said Eshoo. “Our legislation will restore and protect the American people’s right to privacy by ensuring every person has control over their own data, companies are held accountable for privacy intrusions, and the government provides tough but fair enforcement.”

“Recent revelations about tech company abuses make clear that Congress must take action. We need to target the most widespread problems online,” said Lofgren. “The Online Privacy Act solves problems by protecting the data of users and setting clear, firm standards for online companies. This bill prevents the abusive collection and retention of personal information. If companies can’t collect data, they can’t use that data to manipulate Americans for profit.”

The Online Privacy Act protects individuals, encourages innovation, and restores trust in technology companies by:

  • Creating User Rights – The bill grants every American the right to access, correct, or delete their data. It also creates new rights, like the right to impermanence, which lets users decide how long companies can keep their data.
  • Placing Clear Limits and Obligations on Companies – The bill minimizes the amount of data companies collect, process, disclose, and maintain, and bars companies from using data in discriminatory ways. Additionally, companies must receive consent from users in plain, simple language.
  • Establishing a Digital Privacy Agency (DPA) – The bill establishes an independent agency led by a Director that’s appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a six-year term. The DPA will enforce privacy protections and investigate abuses.
  • Strengthening Enforcement – The bill empowers state attorneys general to enforce violations of the bill and allows individuals to appoint nonprofits to represent them in private class action lawsuits.

The bill text can be found HERE.

A one-page summary of the Online Privacy Act can be found HERE.

A section-by-section summary of the Online Privacy Act can be found HERE.

Eshoo and Lofgren first introduced the Online Privacy Act on November 5, 2019.

“The Online Privacy Act of 2021 takes the steps needed to change the business practices that drive corporate surveillance in the United States,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “Representatives Eshoo and Lofgren’s bill sets forth strong rights for Internet users, promotes innovation, and establishes a Digital Privacy Agency that will ensure that the U.S. adequately oversees technologies that permeate all our lives. EPIC urges Congress to pass the Online Privacy Act.”

“Public Knowledge welcomes the reintroduction of the Online Privacy Act. This bill provides an important roadmap for how a strong, federal privacy law could be built. It provides strong substantive rights and protections for all consumers, and encourages competition through private and secure data portability requirements. We look forward to working with Reps. Eshoo and Lofgren as they continue to perfect their bill,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel for Public Knowledge.

“The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) is proud to support the reintroduction of the Online Privacy Act by Reps. Anna G. Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “This legislation will protect the personal data of Latinx and prevent abuses from technology companies, while also establishing a new federal agency to enforce privacy protections. Our communities are especially vulnerable to the use of their private data online for reprehensible purposes. The Online Privacy Act will strengthen enforcement of privacy laws and ensure that personal data online is not used to the detriment of our community.”

“Online companies have been allowed to collect and monetize personal data without oversight or consequence for far too long,” said Willmary Escoto, US Policy Analyst for Access Now. “The Online Privacy Act would go a long way in curbing that data processing. It contains many strong data protection provisions and meaningful limitations on what companies could do with our data, and would finally place people, rather than companies, at the center of data policy. This is the type of serious comprehensive privacy legislation that Congress should consider.”

“The troves of personal data compiled about each of us by Big Tech giants like Facebook and Google are among the greatest threats to our democracy and marginalized communities around the country,” said Rishi Bharwani, Partnerships and Policy Director for Accountable Tech. “Big Tech uses that data, which they collect without explicit consent, to steer users into echo chambers and radicalization pipelines—to facilitate civil rights abuses and lend a megaphone to radical hate speech. The rise of misinformation, polarization, and White Supremacist violence stem directly from the ways in which these platforms exploit our weak privacy laws. The Online Privacy Act establishes a new baseline of privacy rights for all people that will safeguard our democracy, protect marginalized communities, and hold Big Tech companies accountable.”

“As technological innovation has rapidly increased, the need for regulation is at the forefront of this issue. Seeing that the Internet is built upon the exploitation of data today, we are proud to say that the Online Privacy Act is leading the charge to put the people first,” said Kalesi Budei, Community Lead for Citizens Privacy Coalition of Santa Clara County.

The following privacy advocates, civil rights groups, consumer rights advocates, public interest groups, nonprofits, think tanks, academics, and authors now support the Online Privacy Act:

  • Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
  • Color of Change
  • Public Knowledge
  • National Hispanic Media Coalition
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • Access Now
  • Accountable Tech
  • Demos
  • Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative)
  • Citizens Privacy Coalition of Santa Clara County
  • Consumer Action
  • Shoshana Zuboff, Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
  • Francesca Bignami, Professor at the George Washington University Law School
  • Joseph Turow, Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania