US online privacy rules unlikely this year, hurting big tech

Updated 30 September 2019

US online privacy rules unlikely this year, hurting big tech

  • The delay is a setback for Amazon, Facebook, Google and retailers like Walmart

WASHINGTON: A US online privacy bill is not likely to come before Congress this year, sources said, as lawmakers disagree over issues like whether the bill should preempt state rules, forcing companies to deal with much stricter legislation in California that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Without a federal law, technology companies, retailers, advertising firms and others dependent on collecting consumer data to track users and increase sales must adapt to the California law, potentially harming corporate profits over the long term.

The delay is a setback for companies ranging from Amazon and Facebook Inc. to Alphabet Inc.’s Google and retailers like Walmart Inc., who either directly collect shopper information to run their websites, or provide free services and derive revenues from advertising that relies on online data collection.

“This will be tremendously challenging ... companies need to really focus on complying with California now because there is not going to be a life raft from a federal level,” said Gary Kibel, a partner specializing in technology and privacy at law firm Davis & Gilbert.

While the sources, who are involved in the negotiations, still think it is possible at least one discussion draft of the bill could land before the year ends, congressional negotiators must still agree on whether it is adequate to simply ask consumers to consent to collection of personally identifiable information and give them the opportunity to opt out and how the new law would be enforced.

They are also negotiating how much information should be deemed private and where one should draw the line in terms of exchange of consumer information with third parties, the sources said.

The effort to draft a federal bill is being led by Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Brian Schatz and Maria Cantwell along with Republican Senators Jerry Moran, Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune.

Sources said Senators Blumenthal and Moran’s staff are working on the federal bill and expected to release a draft before the end of the year. They said a draft of the House version of the bill could land in a few weeks.

California’s data privacy law will affect any major company with an online presence and requires companies with data on more than 50,000 people to allow consumers to view the data they have collected on them. It also lets consumers request deletion of data, and opt out of having the data sold to third parties. Each violation carries a $7,500 fine. Companies are also waiting for the state attorney general to roll out regulations around the law in California.

While it is only meant to protect California consumers, it is not known whether companies adapt their business practices to work under one set of rules for the most populous US state, and existing rules for the other 49 states.

“California will go into effect without Congress doing anything this year on the federal bill,” said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, who did not wish to be named and is pushing for a federal privacy bill. “That’s a big problem because of the business impact this will have,” the source said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Google and Amazon declined comment. President & CEO Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association, which counts Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft as its members, said in a statement that there is broad bipartisan consensus for a federal privacy law and urged Congress to act on it now.

Walmart did not comment and referred Reuters to the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Nicholas Ahrens, a vice president at RILA, which counts Walmart as a member, said the group is continuing to work with Congress toward  federal legislation and is hopeful a bipartisan solution can be reached.

Despite the immediate delay, the privacy bill remains one of the few pieces of legislation that many lobbyists still believe has a decent chance of becoming law because it is a bipartisan concern and does not cost taxpayers money.

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.