Thu | Mar 21, 2024 | 5:01 PM PDT

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Protecting Americans' Data from Foreign Adversaries Act this week. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, prohibits data brokers from selling or transferring the sensitive personal data of U.S. individuals to foreign adversary nations or entities controlled by adversaries.

The legislation is aimed at preventing hostile countries such as China and Russia from obtaining bulk datasets containing details like Social Security numbers, health information, communications records, geolocation data, and other sensitive personal information on Americans. Such data could be exploited by adversaries for espionage, surveillance, or targeting purposes.

"Today's overwhelming vote sends a clear message that we will not allow our adversaries to undermine American national security and individual privacy," said House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders in a joint statement after the 414-0 vote.

The bill grants enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission to go after data brokers who violate the prohibitions, treating violations as unfair or deceptive practices under the FTC Act. However, some privacy advocates believe additional measures are needed.

"The unanimous passing is excellent news, and it could help the DOJ go after data brokers," said Narayana Pappu, CEO of data security firm Zendata. "But there is no requirement federally for brokers to register and disclose practices. Implementing something similar to California's CCPA broker registration... will be key."

Pappu hopes the bill is "a step towards comprehensive federal privacy regulation" with requirements like consent before collection and the ability for consumers to opt out of data sales and request deletion of their information. He also called for updating the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act to create more transparency around data handling by apps and brokers.

While applauding the new restrictions, critics argue broader reform is still required to truly rein in the commercial data industry's collection and monetization of Americans' personal information. However, this bill represents a significant initial step by lawmakers to counter perceived threats around adversaries accessing sensitive data.

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