Consumer groups voiced dismay Friday after a US Senate panel considering privacy legislation scheduled a largely industry-packed witness list for an upcoming hearing.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, a Republican, announced the witness list for Wednesday’s hearing on “policy principles for a federal data privacy framework in the United States.”
The list “is stuffed with well-paid ‘inside the Beltway’ lobbyists from the data gathering industry,” said Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy rights group.
“Senator Wicker’s lineup raises questions about whether he can be trusted to develop legislation that will empower the public and rein in what is now a ‘wild west’ data collection industry.”
The witnesses on the list include executives from the Internet Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association, BSA/The Software Alliance and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
It also includes a representative from the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, which is funded by cable and telecom firms.
Amie Stepanovich of the digital rights group Access Now also expressed concern, writing on Twitter: “Five witnesses. Every last one of them represents corporate interests.”
“This is the second hearing the United States Senate has held on consumer privacy where literally all of the companies that want your personal information are the only ones invited to talk to Senators about your privacy rights,” tweeted Ernesto Falcon of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The Politico news website, which first reported the witness list, said Wicker would speak at a fundraiser hosted by industry groups the day ahead of the hearing.
The Mississippi senator said in a statement on the committee website that he wants “a federal privacy standard to protect consumers without stifling innovation, investment, or competition.”
A separate hearing on privacy legislation has been scheduled for Tuesday by a House panel that has yet to release its witness list.
Chester said he expected to see “more balanced representation” on the House side, “including from civil rights groups.”
Lawmakers have pledged draft new privacy rules aimed at reining in data abuses following a series of scandals and breaches involving Facebook and other internet platforms.
Most tech companies are pledging to accept new regulations to set a uniform standard in the United States following a sweeping set of rules that went into effect in the European Union in 2018. But a fierce debate is expected over the details of any new law.