Since arriving on Capitol Hill last year, Rep. Ro Khanna has advocated for Americans’s rights to their own private data on the web. Now fellow Bay Area Rep. Nancy Pelosi has tapped him to outline just what those rights are.
Pelosi, the longtime Democratic leader who represents San Francisco, asked Khanna last week to draft an “Internet Bill of Rights,” days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of both houses of the U.S. Congress over the Cambridge Analytica data leak. The news of Pelosi was first reported by Newsweek on Thursday.
In a interview with this news organization on Friday, Khanna said that after witnessing how some of his colleagues did not even know certain basic internet concepts during Zuckerberg’s testimony, he felt compelled to act.
“The hearing showed there was a knowledge gap in Congress,” said Khanna. “There are some who didn’t know what cookies were and some who didn’t know how Facebook made its money. I think this is a time for leadership.”
Since arriving at Congress after closely beating fellow Democrat Mike Honda in 2017, Khanna has repeatedly preached about the need for a Internet Bill of Rights to clearly outline what rights Americans have on the internet. Khanna has demanded rights for Americans like the right to access their own private data, delete their data off the internet, and to have universal access to a neutral internet, among others.
Khanna said there is no set date when the Internet Bill of Rights would be drafted. But he plans to seek ideas from Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple, which is in his district.
The freshman representative also said that despite the title that reference the first ten amendments of the Constitution, he has no intention of adding these rights directly into the nation’s supreme law. He hopes that the Internet Bill of Rights will supplement the First and Fourth Amendments.
He also emphasized that the Internet Bill of Rights will not conflict with any state efforts for internet rights, such as California’s pending net neutrality bill sponsored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The bill, titled SB822, seeks to protect net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally — within the state after the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era federal rule in December.
“I support Sen. Wiener’s bill,” said Khanna. “The federal effort can supplement great state laws like (SB822).”
If Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights ever see the light of day, it won’t be the first of its kind in the world. Brazil and Italy have similar codes regarding the internet. Italy’s code states that the internet “must be treated as a global resource and must satisfy the criterion of universality” in its preamble, according to the World Wide Web Foundation.
But most recently, U.S. politicians demanding internet regulation have focused mainly on the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation which is set to take effect in 26 European countries on May 25. GDPR, as it is commonly called, is a wide-sweeping set of internet regulations which, in part, requires companies to ask users permission to use their data, delete user data at their requests, timely inform users of any data breaches and the ability to move, copy or transfer personal data easily from one service to another without any hindrance.
Zuckerberg told Congress that Facebook users in the United States would receive the same GDPR protections “as quickly as possible.” But Facebook changed its terms of services to move its user responsibilities from its international headquarters in Ireland — where GDPR will take effect — to Menlo Park so that non-European Facebook users will be enforced by the less stringent U.S. privacy laws, according to Reuters.
“We have been clear that we are offering everyone who uses Facebook the same privacy protections, controls and settings, no matter where they live,” said a Facebook spokesperson to this news organization about the terms of service changes. “These updates do not change that.”
Khanna believed GDPR is a good first step but a very incomplete one to implement directly into his Internet Bill of Rights.
“GDPR is too vague and is a moving goalpost,” said Khanna. “European users will have to click through more things to get internet access. Let’s wait to see how GDPR works in Europe.”
He hopes Silicon Valley luminaries, such as Apple CEO Tim Cook and Zuckerberg, will help him draft the Internet Bill of Rights to show Silicon Valley’s reputable force.
“Technology is still the most popular industry in this country,” said Khanna. “This bill will help reclaim the public’s trust.”