Apple CEO Tim Cook's expectation that tech giants will be subjected to privacy regulations may soon become a reality, with a pair of U.S. Senators working on a bipartisan bill mandating the protection of consumer data that could be drafted in early 2019.
A subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee discussed a potential bill on Tuesday, one which could allow the Federal Trade Commission the ability to enforce and produce regulations that telecommunications firms should abide by, as well as levying civil penalties, in order to help protect the personal data of consumers.
While no wording has been officially confirmed, Reuters reports Senator Richard Blumenthal advised at the hearing a draft could be finished "early in the session" next year. "I have been working with Senator Jerry Moran on a bipartisan privacy bill that I hope will make very good progress very soon," Blumenthal said.
The bill's debate follows the major breaches of consumer data in recent years, including those of credit reporting agency Equifax and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, with personal data being stolen and sold online or being misused by firms. Twitter, Google, and Facebook have also received criticism for their handling of data and an underwhelming lack of privacy options offered to consumers.
Current considerations for the bill include the possibility of fining tech firms for misusing or failing to sufficiently protect the data of their users, though not all parties seem to agree. Senator Moran, who is also the chairman of the consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security subcommittee, is uncertain about imposing civil penalties despite supporting the introduction of privacy rules.
Senator John Thune of the Commerce Committee advised his committee was also looking into potential privacy legislation, though declined to offer details.
The move towards creating privacy legislation comes months after the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, which provides users with more control of their data and imposes rules on firms collecting and storing the data, among other changes.
The work on draft data protection legislation is likely to be welcomed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is a staunch supporter in protecting the sensitive information of consumers.
In an interview aired on November 18, Cook advised "Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation, I'm a big believer in the free market, but we have to admit when the free market's not working, and it hasn't worked here." Cook added he believes "it's inevitable that there will be some level of regulation" regarding privacy.
Cook has previously spoken in favor of federal regulation, praising GDPR and suggesting "It's time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead."
In September, Apple Vice President of Software Technology Guy "Bud" Tribble spoke to the Senate Committee about privacy, advising of Apple's views on user control over data and how it is shared, and that privacy is a fundamental human right. At the time, Tribble said Apple agrees the FTC should "get the resources they need" in comprehensive legislation relating to privacy, and confirmed Apple's support for such federal privacy legislation to be produced.