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Can Big Brother protect our privacy?

A new coalition of advocacy groups is proposing stronger privacy laws along with a new federal agency to protect consumers from the “bad behavior” of tech companies.

The coalition, according to an announcement, includes Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Public Citizen.

“Curbing companies’ bad behavior will require stronger data privacy laws and a new federal data privacy agency,” the coalition said.

“Big Tech is coming to Washington looking for a deal that affords inadequate protections for privacy and other consumer rights but pre-empts states from defending their citizens against the tech companies’ surveillance and misuse of data,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“But here’s the bad news for the tech giants: That deal isn’t going to fly. Instead, the American people are demanding – and intend to win – meaningful federal restraints on tech company abuses of power that also ensure the right of states to craft their own consumer protections.”

The coalition calls for an overhaul of data privacy requirements, with allowances for state laws that already are at work.

“A new data privacy agency should be created to confront 21st century threats and address emerging concerns for digital customers,” the groups said.

The evidence of a problem is abundant, “from the Equifax data breach to foreign election interference and targeted digital ads based on race, health and income.”

There’s not likely to be any help coming from industry, the coalition said.

“These corporations, many of which dominate online spaces, are far more interested in monetizing every key stroke or click than protecting consumers from data breaches. For that reason, federal and state authorities must act,” they said.

The new work should be based on the original U.S. Code of Fair Information Practices and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Privacy Guidelines, the groups said.

Important objectives are setting limits on the collection, use and disclosure of sensitive personal data, setting limits on the collection, use and disclosure of data of children and teens, and preventing manipulative marketing practices.

“Black communities should not have to choose between accessing the internet and the right to control our data,” said Brandi Collins-Dexter, of coalition member Color Of Change.

“We need privacy legislation that holds powerful corporations accountable for their impacts. Burdening our communities with the need to discern how complex terms of service and algorithms could harm us will only serve to reinforce discriminatory corporate practices. The privacy protection and digital rights principles released today create an important baseline for proactive data protections for our communities.”

Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood explained: “For years now, Big Tech has used our sensitive information as a cash cow. Each innovation – whether it’s talking home assistants, new social media tools or software for schools – is designed to spy on families and children. We desperately need both 21st century legislation and a new federal agency with broad enforcement powers to ensure that children have a chance to grow up without their every move, keystroke, swipe and utterance tracked and monetized.”

The nation already has the Federal Trade Commission, but Caitriona Fitzgerald of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said it “has failed to act.”

“The U.S. needs a dedicated data protection agency.”

The plan calls for limited government access to personal details, promoting privacy innovation and prohibiting “take it or leave it” terms that provide no option for controlling data. It seeks to establish algorithmic governance, advance fair practices, assure enforcement of requirements and establish fair information practices.

The plan states: “The U.S. needs a federal agency focused on privacy protection, compliance with data protection obligations, and emerging privacy challenges. The agency should also examine the social, ethical, and economic impacts of high-risk data processing and oversee impact-assessment obligations.”