Trump administration recommends better data privacy controls

Public concern over data abuse has prompted lawmakers to take action.

James Martin/CNET

The federal government wants to know the best way to protect your privacy online.

On Tuesday, the Department of Commerce released a request for public comments as it outlined the Trump administration’s approach to consumer data privacy.

In the proposal, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a branch under the Commerce Department, recommended privacy regulations focused on giving users control over how their data is used by tech companies.

The proposal comes a day before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is set to hold a hearing on consumer privacy, with companies like Apple, Google and Amazon testifying.

The Commerce Department found public concern with how personal information has been used by tech companies and is taking a “risk-based flexibility” approach for privacy regulations.

“The administration takes these concerns seriously and believes that users should be able to benefit from dynamic uses of their information, while still expecting organizations will appropriately minimize risks to users’ privacy,” the department wrote in the document.

For decades tech companies have had freedom to regulate privacy for themselves, but in recent months public concern over data abuse has prompted lawmakers to take action. In May the European Union put its General Data Protection Regulation into effect, but there hasn’t been a US federal equivalent.

The proposal released Tuesday is calling for public comments by Oct. 26, and it’ll likely set the framework for how lawmakers move forward with any potential legislation.

The department criticized how privacy policies are currently written, arguing that they “only help a very small number of users who choose to read these policies and make binary choices.”

It’s recommending that consumer privacy regulation be focused on the desired outcome: for a reasonably informed person to have control over privacy settings.

The proposal also warned against “being overly prescriptive,” pointing out that such an approach could harm businesses and innovative technology. The Trump administration’s recommendations include better transparency, control and only collecting data that’s absolutely necessary.

Under the proposal, the Federal Trade Commission would be the agency behind enforcing consumer privacy laws. 

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