Sanders calls for US Congress to grapple with “scary” privacy situation

Facebook could face fines running into trillions of dollars, a privacy campaigner tells Bernie Sanders.

The US, or so suggests the popular narrative, doesn’t do privacy regulation. But the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica saga has been a huge wake-up call. Maybe things are changing. Bernie Sanders, the man who went so close to becoming the US President, is, at last, grasping the privacy nettle.

In a recent video blog – The Bernie Sanders Show – he interviewed two campaigners, Lina Khan and Sarah Miller, from the US Open Markets Institute.

There is no GDPR in the US. The latest internet regulation goes back to the 1980s. After acknowledging that Europe is ahead of the US in privacy regulation, Mr Sanders said: “To me, it is just beyond comprehension that we have a government that has ignored (privacy)- we are still operating under our internet law from 1986 – what we need is for the American people to stand up on this, we say we like the technology but want to use it in a way that is not destructive to democracy, to privacy rights, to basic freedom. And I think we can do that.”

The European response has of course been via regulation. But Miller and Khan put a lot of weight on encouraging competition to let market forces create the impetus for change.

Even so, Lina Khan,  a campaigner from the Open Markets Institute told Mr Sanders, “Facebook faces fines potentially up to the trillions of dollars because of their violation of the 2011 ‘consent to create’ around Cambridge Analytica.”

Bernie Sanders said it is scary. “If I know what car you drive, what products you like, I have a pretty good sense of where you are coming from politically.  It’s like the postal service deciding to deliver to ‘your’ house, but not ‘your’ house.  This is a really scary situation.” He added that technology platforms such as Facebook “know where your soft spots are, how to get you to hate her and so on…we need to utilise the technology in a way that works for everybody and not just a profit making tool for just a few people. We need a whole lot of ideas about how we can go forward and what Congress can be doing. But this is an issue of huge consequence.”

In a recent interview, Eve Maler, the VP of Innovation & Emerging Technology at ForgeRock, told us that “the Americans have famously over time been the people who will give away data all day long,” but she says that this is changing.  A recent survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and sponsored by ForgeRock, found that Americans are the most concerned about misuse of data, with the survey including people from Europe and Asia Pacific as well as the US. Eve Maler speculates that, in what she calls ‘the post, post-Snowdon era’, people are beginning to have strategies around their privacy rights. She suggests that following various breaches, United Healthcare and Equifax, for example, American attitudes have shifted.

And this shift in attitude is one that Bernie Sanders is trying to build upon.


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