Corporate Tech Giants Invited, But Consumer Advocacy Groups Shut Out of Senate Hearing on Data Privacy

While representatives for Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Charter Communications, Google, and Twitter are all slated to testify at a Sept. 26 Senate hearing about safeguarding consumer data privacy, the nation’s leading consumer advocacy groups weren’t invited—and they’re not happy about it.

“The absence of consumer representatives all but ensures a narrow discussion, focused on policy alternatives favored by business groups.”
—advocacy groupsIn a letter (pdf) to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation on Wednesday, 28 groups expressed their “surprise and concern that not a single consumer representative was invited to testify” and called on committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to reconsider the witness list.

“The absence of consumer representatives,” the letter warns, “all but ensures a narrow discussion, focused on policy alternatives favored by business groups.”

Signatories to the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Common Cause, the Digital Privacy Alliance, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Free Press Action Fund, and U.S. PIRG.

The powerful corporations invited to testify, the public interest organizations charge, likely will not “recommend baseline legislation, heightened penalties for data breaches, the end of arbitration clauses, the establishment of a privacy agency in the U.S., techniques for data minimization, or algorithmic transparency to prevent secret profiling of American consumers.”

“How can members of the committee develop sensible solutions if they are not even aware of the full range of options?” the letter poses.

“While we have no objection to the participation of business groups in the Senate hearings on consumer privacy, the Senate’s first instinct should be to hear from the American public on these important issues,” it concludes, reminding the committee leaders that the Senate “is first and foremost a public institution, accountable to the people.”

“[Tech firms] know policymakers are considering new privacy protections, and are likely to view this hearing as a chance to encourage Congress to adopt the weakest privacy protections possible—and eviscerate stronger state protections at the same time.”