Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

privacy image

A pair of House Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday that one expert called "a significant milestone as lawmakers around the world take critical aim at the surveillance-based economics that now dominate the Internet." (Image: Shutterstock)

Democrats' New Online Privacy Bill Heralded as Chance to Build 'Alternative Road to a Digital Future'

"This legislation is a game-changer," says Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff, whose latest book warns of "surveillance capitalism."

Jessica Corbett

Backed by progressive privacy advocates, a pair of California House Democrats who represent Silicon Valley introduced sweeping legislation on Tuesday that aims to strengthen online user protections and increase accountability for major technology companies—in part by creating a new federal agency.

"Our legislation ensures that every American has control over their own data, companies are held accountable, and the government provides tough but fair oversight."
—Rep. Anna Eshoo

The Online Privacy Act of 2019, H.R. 4978 (pdf), is sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren.

"Our country urgently needs a legal framework to protect consumers from the ever-growing data-collection and data-sharing industries that make billions annually off Americans' personal information," said Lofgren. "The Online Privacy Act creates a robust framework that balances the actual needs of businesses with fair privacy rights and expectations for users."

The new legislation is now ranked #1 by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) among all the privacy bills currently pending in Congress.

"The bill by Reps. Eshoo and Lofgren sets out strong rights for Internet users, promotes innovation, and establishes a Data Protection Agency," said EPIC policy director Caitriona Fitzgerald. "This is the bill that Congress should enact."

Specifically, as a joint statement from the congresswomen detailed, the bill "protects individuals, encourages innovation, and restores trust in technology companies" by doing the following:

  • 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 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 five-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.

"Every American is vulnerable to privacy violations with few tools to defend themselves," said Eshoo. "Our legislation ensures that every American has control over their own data, companies are held accountable, and the government provides tough but fair oversight."

According to a fact sheet (pdf) from the sponsors, the bill also includes protections for journalists and creates an Open Source Machine Learning Training Data Grant Program.

"This legislation helps to define a new era in our nation and around the world as citizens seek an alternative road to a digital future, one that is compatible with the rights of individuals and the aspirations of a democratic society."
—Shoshana Zuboff, professor and author

Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, welcomed Eshoo and Lofgren's proposal, calling it "a significant milestone as lawmakers around the world take critical aim at the surveillance-based economics that now dominate the Internet."

"This legislation is a game-changer in several key ways," Zuboff said in the lawmakers' statement. "First, it reframes the privacy debate from the notoriously flawed regime of 'notice and consent' to the human rights of users."

"Also, the act establishes a long overdue Digital Privacy Agency with important new investigatory, legal, and law enforcement powers," she explained. "This legislation helps to define a new era in our nation and around the world as citizens seek an alternative road to a digital future, one that is compatible with the rights of individuals and the aspirations of a democratic society."

Free Press Action senior policy counsel Gaurav Laroia declared Tuesday that the bill "marks a major moment in the ongoing legislative debate around consumer privacy."

"Misuses of private information chill free expression, cause reputational harms, inflict harmful price discrimination, and create other adverse impacts to people's civil rights," Laroia added in a statement. "Many of these data practices have disproportionate impacts on people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups."

"It's far past time," Laroia concluded, "for the United States to adopt privacy regulations that protect people's rights and give individuals—not corporations—control over how personal data is used."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Citing Need for 'New, Inclusive Leadership,' Chuy García Files for Chicago Mayoral Race

"We have an opportunity to elect a trusted and experienced leader with a history of building coalitions and a vision for a brighter future for all Chicagoans," said the Democratic congressman.

Jessica Corbett ·


On Cyber Monday, Climate Activists Take Aim at Fashion Industry

"The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries globally. We can all do better, but it's on companies to make this industry better for workers, the planet, and consumers alike."

Jessica Corbett ·


Biden Accused of Selling Out Rail Workers by Urging Congress to Prevent Strike

"Biden is siding with corporate rail bosses over the rank-and-file workers who voted against this agreement," said one progressive commentator after the president urged lawmakers to take action to force through a deal without paid sick leave.

Brett Wilkins ·


Analysis Finds State Legislators Proposed 306 Bills Targeting Trans People in Past 2 Years

"Right-wing state lawmakers are obsessed with taking away the rights of trans people and we're obsessed with knocking them out of public office," said one rights group.

Julia Conley ·


Biden Mulls Sending Long-Range Missiles to Ukraine

While Ukrainians and supporters welcomed Boeing's proposal to arm Ukrainian forces with long-range precision-guided bombs, one anti-war voice accused the American military-industrial complex of "dictating the U.S. foreign policy and profiteering from wars."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo