GAO Offers Support for Expanded Authorities on Internet Privacy

GAO government accountability office

A report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that passage of an internet privacy law plus expanded authorities could help the Federal government better protect consumer privacy, adding ammo to the recent push for a national data privacy law.

The report, commissioned by Congress in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, mainly consists of interviews with industry, academics, and officials from both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) across multiple administrations.

“Comprehensive legislation addressing Internet privacy that establishes specific standards and includes APA [Administrative Procedure Act] notice-and-comment rulemaking and first-time violation civil penalty authorities could help enhance the federal government’s ability to protect consumer privacy,” the report notes.

The report details differences in privacy policy at the FCC, which was responsible for privacy enforcement for internet service providers from 2015 to December 2017, and at the FTC, which is responsible for privacy enforcement today. While most cases brought by the FTC are for deceptive practices, the FCC was able to take privacy enforcement actions.

The report also notes that while industry groups interviewed by GAO see the current regulatory framework as flexible, other stakeholders see the current framework as limited in its effectiveness.

“Consumer advocacy groups and other stakeholders, including some former FTC and FCC commissioners, had concerns about the efficacy of an enforcement approach such as FTC’s approach to Internet privacy oversight, which focuses on enforcing a statute rather than implementing regulations,” GAO notes.

Despite differences in how groups view the current privacy framework, GAO found support for legislation across the spectrum of stakeholders.

“Stakeholders from a variety of perspectives–including from academia, industry, consumer advocacy groups, and former FTC and FCC commissioners–told us that a privacy statute could enhance Internet privacy oversight.”

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