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Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser Takes Aim at Big Tech and Big Telecom

What should state leaders be doing to procure a safer, healthier information environment?

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Photo of Jessica Dheere and Phil Weiser by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 27, 2022 – Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser advised state and local leaders to devote resources both toward creating strong data privacy measures and developing broadband deployment initiatives.

Speaking on Wednesday at the Mountain Connect conference here, Weiser split his time being critical Big Tech and inadequate broadband.With a large amount of federal resource devoted toward broadband deployment  focused on areas without high-quality broadband, Weiser said that Colorado had a key priority to double-check the accuracy of federal  broadband maps.

Weiser is deeply involved in technology and telecommunications issues because of his work as the founder of Silicon Flatirons, a research center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was interviewed by Jessica Dheere, director of Ranking Digital Rights, a program of the New American think tank in Washington.

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But while heartened by the possible rollout of more reliable, affordable internet access being spurred by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the pair was sobered by the dilemmas associated with Big Tech.

Dheere described a few of the social concerns of the big data era, including: Information overload, companies’ collection of vast amounts of data processed through algorithms, cloud services encouraging people to store their data and essential documentation on virtual servers, addiction to social media platforms and virality, and government technologies that make decisions for people.

“How do we take advantage of the amazing opportunities broadband creates for us, without sacrificing our civil and human rights, without being dehumanized by the technologies themselves and the corporations and institutions we interact with?” Dheere asked.

“We talked here about broadband as the great connector, but we also need to address the potential harms and create strategies for mitigating them.”

Bringing problems and solutions to the local level

Weiser responded that, “We need to focus on our state and local opportunities to solve problems together.”

He reflected on time he spent, more than a decade ago, working to create privacy legislation while working in the Obama administration. Such a bill would presumably give consumers more choice and awareness on how their data is collected and used, but no such federal measure has passed.

Now as a top state government official, Weiser has been supportive of state data privacy laws. Last year the state passed the Colorado Privacy Act, and his office as the state attorney general is required this fall to issue rules that will go into effect on July 1, 2023.

Colorado is the third state, after California and Virginia, to pass a comprehensive data privacy bill. Yet Weiser said that the rules to be crafted under Colorado’s privacy bill are principles-based and will be less prescriptive than California’s and Virginia’s.

Giving users more control over their data

“The core promise here is to give consumers basic control over their data,” he explained. “What information is being collected about you? Is it true? Are you okay with it being shared to other people? Do businesses actually have to assess what data they’re collecting, and ask themselves if it’s necessary?”

Notable provisions in the law include a “universal opt-out mechanism” which allows Coloradans to freely and easily opt out of their personal data being sold and used for targeted advertising.

The Colorado Privacy Act further requires users to opt-in for the processing of “sensitive data,” and grants district attorneys, as well as the state attorney general, to enforce the statute.

For more on how Colorado’s Privacy Act compares to other states, see Colorado’s New Data Privacy Law: Comparing to Other States and Looking Ahead.

Privacy

Experts Wrangle Over Whether Online Children Protection Legislation Needs Overhaul

‘We can’t keep overhauling the regulatory structure.’

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WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Observers at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event on Wednesday urged Washington not to take legislation protecting children online down the path of congressional overhaul, instead preferring guidance for the existing text to come from its administrator, the Federal Trade Commission.

The Child Online Privacy Protection Act, passed in 1998, includes online data protections for children under 13. In 2013, as designated by Congress, the FTC updated enforcement rules, giving parents more control over the online collection of their children’s personal information.

Since then, new advances in technology and social media has brought COPPA to the attention of many who consider substantive changes are needed, including privacy experts, senators and U.S. President Joe Biden, who addressed it in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Some lawmakers have long called for an age increase for those protections through legislative reforms, which came before lawmakers this month introduced a proposal for the first federal privacy law, which would include data privacy protections for children under 17.

“We can’t keep overhauling the regulatory structure,” said Julia Tama, partner at law firm Venable LLP. “It takes a big investment for companies to come up to speed.”

Instead, she said, she wants “improvements on what we have rather than replacing it with a completely different framework.”

In May, the FTC issued a policy statement that will guide its enforcement of COPPA. It focused on four provisions: limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

Graham Dufault, senior director for public policy at the App Association, said the FTC should be responsible for potential provisions made to COPPA. “The FTC’s enforcement of COPPA is a really important thing for us.”

But panelist James Cooper, associate professor of law and director of the program on economics and privacy at George Mason University, said COPPA isn’t in need of any major revisions. He said if the legislation requires change, he doesn’t want to see it done through FTC policy statements and instead should come from the crafters in Congress.

“If the FTC feels [the need to] expand COPPA beyond its current boundaries, it should go back to Congress,” Cooper said.

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Expand Online Protections for 17-Year-Olds in Draft Federal Privacy Law, Committee Urged

The draft privacy law includes a provision to enhance privacy protections online for children under 17.

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Photo of the hearing held by the subcommittee on consumer protection and commerce

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – Panelists before the subcommittee on consumer protection and commerce recommended Tuesday that a newly-crafted draft for federal privacy legislation introduced earlier this month include online protections for 17-year-olds.

The draft of the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which would be the first federal privacy law, includes a provision to enhance privacy protections online for children under 17, including restrictions on Big Tech platforms’ data collection and targeted advertisements to those age groups.

But testimony from Jolina Cuaresma, senior counsel on privacy and technology policy at Common Sense Media, suggested that the language include 17-year-olds as well.

If the bill becomes law, she said this would provide a substantial upgrade to the Child Online Protection Privacy Act, which provides online protections for children under 13. “We need to cover all minors under the draft’s protections,” Cuaresma said, adding, “one in four children between the ages of 9 and 17 have had a sexual encounter with an adult online.”

With ongoing discussion about potential changes to COPPA and ensuring children’s privacy online due to increasing use of online educational tools and social media, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fl, stated during the hearing, “there is room for improvement in the draft for children’s protections.”

Big Tech regulation

Witnesses also said the draft should make clearer limits for Big Tech companies. Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “technology companies have too much power” and have been unregulated for too long. She urged the bill to define responsibilities more clearly for big tech companies, individuals, states, and federal entities.

Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of the energy and commerce committee stated that if the bill passes, “our kids will be protected from abusive advertising and data transfers, and businesses will be required to protect consumer data or face real consequences.

“Comprehensive national privacy legislation is necessary to limit the excesses of Big Tech and ensure Americans can safely navigate the digital world,” said Pallone.

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Privacy

Draft of Bipartisan ‘Years-in-the-Making’ Privacy Bill Released

The bill is bipartisan, and a joint effort between the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee.

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., from his website.

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2022 – Leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Commerce Committee announced on Friday a discussion draft of a “comprehensive” data privacy bill that they say has been in the making for years.

The bipartisan bill overall addresses a national data privacy framework, a set of consumers’ data privacy rights and appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

The release was announced by the House committee’s Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., its ranking member Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., and the Senate committee’s ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

In the coming weeks, we will be working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build support and finalize this standard to give Americans more control over their personal data,” they said.

“We welcome and encourage all of our colleagues to join us in this effort to enable meaningful privacy protections for Americans and provide businesses with operational certainty. This landmark agreement represents the sum of years of good faith efforts by us, other members, and numerous stakeholders as we work together to provide American consumers with comprehensive data privacy protections.”

They called the release of the draft a “critical milestone.”

The proposed bill would grant Americans protections against discriminatory use of their data, require covered entities to minimize on the front end the data they collect, enforce loyalty duties and prevent customers from needing to pay for privacy, prohibit targeted advertising for covered entities, enhance data protections for children and minors and establish “regulatory parity” across the internet.

Child privacy has been a particular topic of interest on Capitol Hill, with several high profile hearings taking place with social media companies to investigate their practices of catering to teenage users.

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