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From the Executive Director: The Time for Internet Privacy Legislation Is Long Overdue

By February 25, 2020No Comments

David Inoue

This past year, the Japanese American Citizens League celebrated its 90th anniversary. In about one-third of that time, in just the past 30-40 years, we have seen a revolution in technology as the Internet has gone from the early telephone modems to modern Gigabit and wireless technology, making Internet access present in all facets of our lives.

As consumers, we also know that our relationship to digital services is as complex as it is important. We use the Internet to do everything from connecting to friends and family to seeking new employment and educational opportunities.

As our dependence on the Internet has grown, so, too, has the power of Big Tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. These are no longer start-up companies in need of special support to foster growth. It is past time for Congress to properly regulate these companies and others to protect our privacy as consumers, whose data is increasingly becoming a profit center for the tech companies.

The Internet has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, and with that, the reach of the companies we interact with are also embedded in everything we do. Search engines and e-commerce sites may now know more details about us than our own spouses. Yet, that information can also be used by those companies to create a more efficient and quality Internet experience for us as consumers.

Facebook and Google are masters at tailoring our Internet experience based on whom we interact with, what we search for and what links we follow. The question is how can we ensure our information is used appropriately to improve the Internet experience and not weaponized against us by either the private or public sector.

Given the ubiquity of the Internet in every facet of our lives and the danger of how much of our information is available outside of our individual control, it is past time that there be some regulation of Internet privacy.

Any regulation must keep in mind the principles of free speech and freedom of association that enable platforms like Facebook to foster the development of communities like JACL’s online presence.

As a national organization, we recognize the need to regulate the Internet experience at the national level. In the absence of Federal privacy legislation, we are seeing states begin to implement their own legislation.

It is past time that Congress act to enact privacy standards for all companies to follow, regardless of where they are located or their users are located. A single standard removes the uncertainty of what laws are applicable, even to an organization like JACL, which must protect the information of our own members and web users as we increasingly interact through the Internet.

It has been almost four years since the European Union passed its General Data Protection Regulation and nearly two years since it went into effect. If 27 different nations can agree on basic Internet protections, it is hard to understand why our Congress is unable, or perhaps more accurately, is unwilling to act.

There was a time when one could argue that the absence of regulation fostered innovation and the expansion of the Internet. That time is long past. The Internet is no longer the domain of small start-ups, but of the Big Tech companies that control our personal information.

We can create regulation that allows innovation to continue but also institutes standardized guardrails for all of us to follow. Too much power rests with Big Tech in how our information can be used, and the consumer must be returned the right of that control.

We must make sure that our data is not abused, or even worse, weaponized against us as it has in the past. At one time, the census was used against Japanese Americans, but as a result, we now have regulations to prevent such abuses from happening. Similar regulations to protect our private information must now be implemented to protect our information, now much more detailed than anything available through the census.

The Internet is tremendously powerful, something unimaginable even 40 years ago. Because of that growth, it is now an indispensable part of our lives, one that we cannot simply opt out. We need Congress to ensure that everyone has equal access to the Internet without fear that our personal information is being misused or abused.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based at the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.