Top House Republicans criticized a Democratic proposal to spend $1 billion to fund the creation of a new privacy bureau at the Federal Trade Commission, saying it would serve a partisan agenda rather than improve the privacy needs of Americans.
As part of their $3.5 trillion infrastructure and social welfare reconciliation spending package, House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are pushing for almost triple the trade commission’s current annual budget to build a bureau within the agency focused on online privacy and user data protection.
Many tech giants — such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon — have come under fire for their controversial data gathering and usage practices that often secretly infringe on users’ privacy.
Both parties favor establishing a national privacy standard and holding Big Tech companies more accountable for how they gather and use the data they collect. But Republicans say Democrats are not moving the country in that direction with their proposal.
“Simply allocating funding without providing clear legislative direction on this matter is irresponsible, at best,” Summer Blevins, deputy chief of staff for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida, told the Washington Examiner.
Bilirakis is the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection panel that deals with regulating tech companies on privacy and data security.
“Congressman Bilirakis is alarmed that nothing within the provision even requires the funds to be spent on improving data privacy protections for Americans,” Blevins said.
House Energy and Commerce Democrats said earlier this week the new privacy bureau would be focused on “stopping unfair and deceptive acts and practices related to privacy violations, data security incidents, identity theft, and other data abuses.”
Republicans say the short description of the privacy bureau is not legally binding and could be interpreted for other partisan purposes.
“Given that the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the FTC has a history of agency overreach, the congressman is fearful that bureaucrats at the FTC will divert these funds for their own purposes, perhaps using it as a socialist slush fund to intimidate businesses that do not adhere to the administration’s priorities,” Blevins said.
Both parties agree the trade commission’s consumer protection bureau, which handles privacy-related issues, is woefully understaffed, especially in comparison to other countries.
House Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection Chair Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Bilirakis’s Democratic counterpart, said in 2019 the trade commission has only 40 full-time staff assigned to privacy-related issues, while the United Kingdom has approximately 500.
However, Republicans say they want to see targeted legislation that both sides have crafted and agreed on to solve online privacy issues rather than just throw money at it.
“Democrats are abandoning what should be common sense bipartisan legislation — like protecting American’s privacy and securing our nation’s supply chains — in order to recklessly lump these issues into Speaker Pelosi’s grand socialist wish list,” a House Energy & Commerce Republican aide told the Washington Examiner.
Blevins said Bilirakis is interested in working on privacy-related legislation with Democrats and would like to establish a national privacy standard enforced by the FTC, which will need more resources and greater authority to do this.
Nevertheless, there appears to be little agreement between the two parties regarding a national privacy framework.