The NCSL Blog


By Abbie Gruwell

Technological innovation never stops, and as our devices become more complex the question of how to keep our data secure is more important than ever.

Data illustration with padlockEvolving applications of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, facial recognition, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices present a novel and exciting challenge to state policymakers, especially as privacy proposals find a foothold in many states. The COVID-19 pandemic is also accelerating the adoption of emerging technology as contact tracing, education, and work go digital.

Read NCSL’s blog on COVID-19 and Contact Tracing Apps and listen to the new podcast, Data Privacy, State Legislation and the Pandemic.

Although Congress has been unable to advance a comprehensive privacy bill, both chambers have focused increasingly on emerging tech with proposals promoting federal strategies, guidelines, and security regulations. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently moved the bipartisan Industries of the Future Act with the goal of directing billions of dollars to research and development of AI, quantum information science, biotechnology, next-generation wireless networks and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, and synthetic biology.

The Commerce Committee also saw the introduction of the Advancing Artificial Intelligence Research Act, sponsored by members of the Senate AI Caucus. A bicameral and bipartisan proposal would establish a task force within the National Science Foundation to provide data resources for artificial intelligence research.

In the House, among other proposals, a package proposed by Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this summer seeks to both encourage and regulate emerging technologies such as block chain, quantum computing, IoT in manufacturing, AI, and unmanned delivery systems.

With all of these exciting programs and technologies comes the challenge of protecting the sensitive information that makes them possible.

To help legislators explore this innovative topic, NCSL’s Cybersecurity Task Force has launched a Privacy Work Group that will examine policy challenges and potential solutions of an increasingly data-drive society. Two NCSL Privacy Work Group sponsors gave their perspectives on how privacy regulations will develop with the growth of emerging tech:

 “Our greatest national public policy challenge today is to protect every American online. Data is everywhere. Every minute, consumers go online to work, get information, shop, and connect with others. Each day, consumers use millions of AI-empowered devices from voice assistants, smart cars, and smart phones, and send billions of search requests and share hundreds of thousands of photos online. Data use capabilities are continually evolving and are endless.  Notwithstanding, the United States does not have a national privacy framework to protect consumers nationwide.  Every consumer, no matter the state, territory or commonwealth deserve protection. Consumers deserve to know how their data is being collected and used. Consumers deserve to know that the companies collecting data are taking reasonable security measures to protect personal information they collect or store. A piece-meal or single state approach will not sufficiently protect consumers; and a patchwork will end in needless confusion. To avert a fractured policy landscape in which both consumers and industries are whip-sawed by multiple and conflicting privacy regimes, Congress should adopt a balanced federal privacy framework that holds all businesses to the same standards for how consumer personal data is used, across the entire internet ecosystem. Consumers deserve nothing less.” – NCTA, the Internet and Television Association

“A nationwide solution will protect consumers’ privacy rights, regardless of where they live, and hold all participants within the digital ecosystem to the same regulatory standards. Such an approach will ensure consumers have a framework they can rely on, while also encouraging the next wave of investment and innovation in healthcare, education, and other key sectors.

"Consumers and businesses across the U.S. rely on the internet and the free flow of information, goods and services it enables. Data and connectivity promote innovation, access, choice, and convenience. A patchwork of conflicting privacy regulations could impede the ability of next-generation technologies like 5G to empower consumers and businesses in new and exciting ways – including expanded access to telemedicine, which has proved critical for communities grappling with COVID-19. Yet, because today’s privacy laws and regulations increasingly are fragmented by sector and geography the U.S. risks falling behind in deploying new technology solutions that can promote social good and economic wellbeing. Conflicting and contradictory privacy rules will confuse consumers and may put their most sensitive data, such as health information, at risk.” – AT&T

Learn more about NCSL’s Privacy Week and the Privacy Work Group.

Abbie Gruwell is senior committee director of NCSL's Communications, Financial Services, and Interstate Commerce Committee.

Email Abbie.


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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.