Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell is taking on Big Techs data collection practices.
Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell is taking on Big Tech's data collection practices. Stephen Brashear / Stringer

It seems not a day goes by without warnings that after years of explosive, mostly unregulated growth, America's major online platforms are now tracking you, stockpiling your data for "secret" purposes, and making money by selling your data to third parties that make their own money by keeping lengthy files on your interests and credit-worthiness.

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Today, Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell announced she's leading an effort that would tip the scales back in favor of individuals and their right to online privacy.

It takes the form of a new Senate bill called the "Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act of 2019," and as the Washington Post summarizes, Cantwell's bill would impose "tough new punishments for Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley tech giants that mishandle their users’ personal data," while also giving Americans "their 'Miranda rights' for the digital age."

Notably, Cantwell's proposed bill also gives individual Americans a "private right of action" to sue tech companies if their digital rights are violated. That's an idea some Democrats here in Washington state opposed last year during the pitched battle over a digital privacy bill that ultimately died in Olympia.

Does Cantwell's measure have a chance of passing in a Republican-controlled US Senate that for years has mostly resisted regulating Big Tech?

Even Cantwell seems to admit it will be a heavy lift, suggesting to the Washington Post that all the money being made off the online personal data trade is at the root of the resistance.

“There are those who just see the ‘ka-ching’ of this scenario, and they’re like, ‘Let’s have no rules,’” she told the Post. “I don’t see them coming to the table on strong enforcement, but we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, the rights Cantwell proposes giving Americans under federal law include:

• The right to know what information digital platforms are gathering about you

• The right to prevent digital platforms from selling that personal data to third parties

• The right to delete and correct your corporate-controlled digital data

• The right to have your digital data stored securely when it's collected by online companies

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• The right to hold companies responsible through private lawsuits if your data is improperly handled

“In the growing online world, consumers deserve two things: privacy rights and a strong law to enforce them,” Cantwell said today in a statement. “They should be like your Miranda rights—clear as a bell as to what they are and what constitutes a violation.”

The full text of Cantwell's proposal—which is co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—can be read here.

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