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Federal Privacy Legislation More Crucial Than Ever, Says Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Wilson

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Commissioner Christine Wilson by the Federal Trade Commission

June 4, 2020 — Federal privacy legislation is more important than ever, said participants in a Brookings Institution webinar Wednesday.

Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Wilson said that privacy concerns are at an all-time high in the age of coronavirus, and the time was right for oversight of tech companies.

“I would say that the need for federal privacy legislation is greater now than it has been before,” she said. “There have been bipartisan calls for federal privacy legislation for many years ... [and] the pandemic, I think, has laid bare in very stark ways the lack of ... comprehensive baseline privacy legislation.”

Wilson’s comments come amid questions surrounding the use of contact-tracing technology as a measure against the coronavirus. Countries like South Korea have implemented such technologies, and late last month, Google and Apple rolled out their own supposedly anonymized contact tracing app.

Still, many experts worry that, if put in place in the United States, it could invade the privacy to which many Americans are accustomed.

Wilson said that coronavirus data has the potential to shorten the spread of the virus and return American life to normal. However, she said, this technology comes with tradeoffs that Americans will need to weigh.

“We need to ensure, not just that people will use the technologies that we’re going to try to offer them in order to help mitigate diseases and mitigate the continued outbreak of the disease, but also we need to ensure that people trust these systems, because they know that their data, if it is going to be used, will only be used for public health purposes,” she said.

Another issue that the government must consider, according to Wilson, was the impact of big tech overreach on vulnerable communities.

“This is not a new issue, that is that we need to ensure that the data is not used in a discriminatory way that harms vulnerable communities,” she said.

“If we don’t do that, and we don’t do that quickly, we will not be able to solve this crisis,” she added.

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