CES 2020, LAS VEGAS: A panel of government and industry experts tackled the tricky subject of privacy in the US, agreeing there is a need for federal privacy legislation, but differing on what rules should be included in any potential package passed by politicians.

Khaliah Barnes, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook (pictured, centre), pressed for “strong individual rights” allowing consumers to access, change, delete or move data companies have collected about them. She also called for baseline measures to ensure data security and minimise the amount of information collected from individuals in the first place.

Additionally, Barnes advocated for accountability provisions including assessments and audits, arguing this could help change company culture around privacy.

She noted Facebook itself submitted to third-party oversight as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) following a probe of privacy violations in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018: “The order has been a catalyst for a shift in our culture…Everyone at Facebook knows that privacy is a priority and we’re committed to get it right”.

However, former FTC chairman Maureen Ohlhausen (pictured, second from left), cautioned against putting too much of the burden for privacy protection on the public. She argued it’s important for data to be used in ways that are consistent with consumer expectations and the sensitivity of the information being collected, adding users shouldn’t be overloaded with consent requests.

Ohlhausen suggested federal law could be used to simplify the consent process, potentially through the adoption of a simpler, more uniform notice.

In the absence of nationwide laws, several US states have moved to pass their own rules. Panellists argued such fragmentation makes it harder for businesses to understand their obligations and implement adequate controls.

Earlier in the week, Apple senior director for global privacy Jane Horvath also endorsed the need for Congress to act, during what was the vendor’s first official CES appearance in nearly 30 years.