Key senator says federal privacy bill should be as strong as California's

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of several U.S. lawmakers drafting online privacy legislation, said on Tuesday that he wanted to see California’s privacy law, which takes effect next year, to be the basis for a federal bill.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) talks to reporters after reading the FBI’s report on their investigation into sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Blumenthal, a Democrat, spoke at a hearing at which Google senior privacy counsel Will DeVries came under tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats.

DeVries was asked about information collected that can be connected to particular people, the complexity of privacy policies and whether Android phones, which run on a Google operating system, stop collecting location information when they are turned off.

“Privacy is all the rage. Bipartisan. But as frequently happens, the devil is in the details,” Blumenthal said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Blumenthal noted that he was working with other senators on a federal law. “I really feel strongly that we should build on California,” he said.

California’s data privacy law, passed last year, imposes fines of up to $7,500 on large companies for intentional failure to disclose data collection or delete user data on request, or for selling others’ data without permission.

Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican and longtime Google critic, took DeVries to task, saying that Google continued to track wireless phones even when they are turned off. “Americans have not signed up for this,” he said.

DeVries defended the practice, saying the information was used to send calls to the phone and that it was not used for advertising.

Hawley teamed up with Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, on a bill that would update children’s online privacy rules to allow teens aged 13 to 15 to decline having their data collected. It allows for data that was collected to be erased.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, asked DeVries skeptical questions about how much revenue Google earns from behavioral advertisements, or ads based on browsing history and other details of browsing history.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, expressed particular concern about the collection of medical information such as which households were searching about illness like fevers, and using it to advertise.

She expressed strong support for the California privacy law, noting it will go into effect next year.

“And that must happen,” she emphasized. “I will not support any privacy bill that weakens the California standard.”

Feinstein appeared to be leaning toward an “opt-in” mechanism, where companies require users to agree to having their data collected.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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