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Gillibrand seeks creation of agency to protect Americans' online privacy

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) discusses the need for

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) discusses the need for a federal agency that would protect Americans' data and privacy during a news conference at her Manhattan office on Sunday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Sunday called on Congress to pass her Data Protection Act, which would create an independent federal agency that would protect Americans’ online privacy and impose civil penalties and seek injunctive relief against companies that abuse consumer data.

The United States is one of the few democracies — and the only member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — that does not have a federal data protection agency, Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Sunday during a news conference at her Manhattan office.

Massive amounts of personal data — everything from credit reports and health records to search histories and public profiles — is available online, Gillibrand said. 

“Our very existence is being sold to the highest bidder,” Gillibrand said. “Americans deserve to have control of their data. They have a right to know if companies are using their information for profit or selling it to questionable third parties.” 

The proposed Data Protection Agency, Gillibrand said, would enforce privacy statutes, investigate complaints, promote innovation in data protection and advise Congress on privacy and technology issues. 

Gillibrand said she introduced the bill earlier this month and is currently seeking Republican and Democratic co-sponsors in the House and the Senate. 

The Federal Trade Commission, which currently oversees complaints about privacy breaches, does not have the expertise or political will to do the job properly, Gillibrand said. 

“The current system is broken,” agreed Caitriona Fitzgerald of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who attended Sunday’s news conference. “Digital giants invade our private lives, spy on our families and gather our most intimate facts on a mass scale for profit. There is no federal agency responsible for privacy protection. The FTC has consistently failed to protect consumer privacy.” 

Also Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Transportation Security Administration to stop using the Chinese social media app TikTok, which has already been prohibited by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA. 

Schumer said the company that created TikTok has close ties to the Chinese Communist government, which could potentially access Americans’ sensitive personal information through the app. The Defense Department, the State Department and DHS banned the use of TikTok after Schumer in October wrote to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire expressing concerns about privacy. But TSA continued to use TikTok to create travel videos, including a Valentine’s Day video sharing “romantic tips” for travelers, Schumer said.

The TSA in an emailed statement Sunday evening said: "TSA has never published any content to Tik Tok nor has it ever directed viewers to Tik Tok. A small number of TSA employees have previously used Tik Tok on their personal devices to create videos for use in TSA’s social media outreach, but that practice has since been discontinued.” 

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