The Senate Judiciary Committee Tech Task Force met for the first time on July 18. The task force is charged with addressing tech industry issues on privacy, data security, censorship, antitrust and competition.

“This bipartisan group is working to build an institutional knowledge about the technological privacy issues we face in 2019 and how to address them,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The task force, led by Sens. Blackburn, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, met with privacy experts from four tech companies – Snap Chief Privacy Officer Katherine Tassi, Match Global Head of Privacy Idriss Kechida, Salesforce Global Privacy Officer and Executive Vice President Lindsey Finch, and Mozilla Head of Americas Policy Heather West.

“I was pleased to hear from four compelling companies about their concerns surrounding privacy regulation and their ideas about how the United States can be competitive and innovative while ensuring the data privacy of our constituents. There are a lot of hard questions to answer in this space, and it’s critical that we figure out how to effectively deal with unforeseen uses of individuals’ personal data,” said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., in a statement.

Following the first meeting, a group of advocacy organizations wrote Blackburn regarding the task force. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Defending Rights & Dissent, Government Accountability Project, Knowledge Ecology International, Patient Privacy Rights, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and Privacy Times urged Blackburn to work with consumer and privacy organizations, in addition to industry groups and private sector companies. Furthermore, the groups asked that the task force “pursue an open and inclusive process that ensures that meetings are held in public, that a record is established, and that the voices of consumers are heard.”

“For too long, tech companies have determined the privacy policies in the United States,” the group wrote. “The consequence has been spiraling levels of data breach and identity theft … Industry groups have resisted the passage of meaningful privacy laws and when strong privacy laws are enacted, they come to Washington and ask you to preempt these safeguards.” The letter continued to explain, “We recognize the need for innovation and competition. Consumers and businesses both benefit from a vibrant marketplace. But today’s Internet economy is dominated by a few companies who spy on smaller firms, preference their own services, and eliminate competition through litigation and acquisition.”

The group urged the task force to pursue “comprehensive, baseline Federal legislation,” which focuses on establishing “limits on the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data,” as well as an independent data protection agency. “As you and others have said, the Federal Trade Commission has simply failed in this role,” the letter says.

The advocacy groups also counter claims of regulations stifling innovation by saying, “innovation will emerge as companies develop new business practices that are less dependent on the gathering of our data.”

Read More About
More Topics
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.