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Backer says U.S. Internet Bill of Rights will not follow EU model

Rep. Ro Khanna is on a mission to pass regulation that would shore up data privacy rights. But he's not looking to Europe's 'overprescriptive' approach for inspiration.

Once Democrats take over the House in January, some members of the new majority will make a foray into rule-making...

for the internet.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who developed 10 principles he dubbed the Internet Bill of Rights, said he expects the House to pass an internet regulation bill in the next two-year session. Whether it becomes law is an open question.

The bill would be a major departure from the route European regulators took with the General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect last May, according to Khanna.

"I think my Internet Bill of Rights is more consistent with American constitutional law and leaves more space for innovation," Khanna said in an interview earlier this month.

Allowing for innovation is a key element of any proposed internet legislation, Khanna said, if the U.S. is to maintain its status as the incubator of the world's most successful technology companies.

"There's a reason Europe hasn't produced any great tech companies and really hasn't led in technology," he said, citing regulations that are "overbroad and overprescriptive," compared with the "more nuanced and better crafted" laws in this country. "We need to make sure that any Internet Bill of Rights allows for innovation and is also respectful of the First Amendment."

Inertia over internet regs

Legislative changes in the United States, which is home to the largest internet companies, could have a profound effect on how enterprises can operate online. A Silicon Valley Democrat, Khanna represents an important view, as his party ascends to the majority in one chamber of Congress. But progress on legislative has been slow, despite ample evidence that regulation is needed.

Rep. Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.)Ro Khanna

Khanna was tasked by Democratic Party leaders with developing a broad outline for internet regulations after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress last April.

The massive data breach at credit rating firm Equifax and disclosure of Cambridge Analytica's data collection practices for political ends also should have caused some urgency in Congress, according to Khanna, who said he was disappointed by his colleagues' questions and by the lack of action after the hearings.

"I think most people came in watching, thinking, 'We really need to hold Facebook accountable.' And then they saw some of the questions that senators and congresspeople were asking, and they said, 'Those are people writing the rules?'" Khanna told an audience at AI and the Future of Work, a conference at MIT earlier this month.

From left to right: Rep. Ro Khanna; Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy; and Thomas Kochan, co-director of MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research; discuss data privacy onstage at the recent AI and the Future of Work event at MIT.
From left to right: Rep. Ro Khanna; Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy; and Thomas Kochan, co-director of MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research; discuss data privacy onstage at the recent AI and the Future of Work event at MIT.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose ascension to House Speaker in January remains in question, told Khanna that lawmakers needed "some principles that will help guide us" in regard to regulating the internet, according to Khanna.

Khanna consulted with World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee; tech giants, such as Facebook, Google and Uber, among others; and advocacy organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Then, in October, Khanna unveiled his 10 principles, which he said share similarities with a 2015 proposal backed by the Obama administration and with California's recent state privacy law.

The principles would grant internet users more of a say over whether their data is used and also mandate swift reporting after a data breach. The outline also incorporates net-neutrality principles, such as giving users the right to internet access "without internet service providers blocking, throttling, engaging in paid prioritization, or otherwise unfairly favoring content, applications, services or devices."

No argument from tech?

Khanna said the tech companies he consulted agree there should be legal reforms.

We need to make sure that any Internet Bill of Rights allows for innovation and is also respectful of the First Amendment.
Ro Khannacongressman in California

"The companies recognize that there needs to be better privacy law. They are open to it, and they know that they have to earn the public trust, that there was a breach of public trust and there needs to be legal reform," Khanna said.

Now that the principles have been written, it will be left to the House Energy and Commerce Committee to write the legislation, according to Khanna. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) hopes to become chairman of the committee, and he is in a good position for that post as the committee's current top-ranking Democrat.

On Nov. 7, Pallone announced eight general policies he hopes to advance, including the provision of "meaningful privacy and data security protections" and the protection of net neutrality, the Obama administration policy that was undone by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"We plan to put the consumer first by pushing policies that protect net neutrality, promote public safety, and provide meaningful privacy and data security protections that are seriously lacking today. We will also focus on strengthening the economy and creating more good-paying jobs by investing in broadband infrastructure to expand access for communities nationwide. It’s also important that the committee get back to conducting real oversight of the FCC, and that means regular oversight hearings with all commissioners," Pallone said in a statement.

First-quarter timetable

More specifics about the Internet Bill of Rights proposal would become public as the process advances, and Khanna said he expects the resulting bill will pass at least one chamber of Congress.

"I expect legislation to come out in the next Congress in January or February," Khanna said. "Whether it passes the Senate and get signed into law, that's going to be a harder issue, but I do think the votes will be there in the House."

Whatever the final form of the bill, Khanna said U.S. lawmakers should not follow the example of Europe, where policymakers have granted individuals the "right to be forgotten."

"We don't have in our Internet Bill of Rights a right to be forgotten. That would violate our sense of speech and our First Amendment. We require consent of the collection of data, but we don't overprescribe a bureaucratic state to design every aspect of features for a company's homepage. We leave a lot of the implementation to the discretion of companies, while having strict standards on what the privacy and security protection should be," Khanna said.

"I don't think America should look to Europe for almost anything as a model in terms of innovation or technology. They've been a disaster when it comes to technology innovation," he said.

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