June 21, 2023

Heinrich proposes bill to protect Americans’ data

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich.

Bipartisan legislation introduced on Tuesday aims at protecting people’s data from exploitation by foreign nations. 

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, as well as two other senators—Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, sponsored the legislation.

The legislation also seeks to enact criminal and civil penalties in an effort to prevent employees of foreign companies from accessing U.S. data from abroad.

“It is simply too easy for anyone to buy large volumes of information about Americans – a concern I’ve been highlighting for some time,” Heinrich said in a news release. “Whether it is our adversaries or our own government purchasing this personal data, we need to put guardrails in place. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has stated her commitment to considering and implementing the report’s recommendations, and I will hold her to that. We need to ensure Americans’ privacy and national security is protected, and this legislation is a good start.”

The bill, Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Surveillance Act of 2023, seeks to amend the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 to include protections for Americans’ data against foreign nations.

These updates include directing the Commerce Secretary with assistance from other agencies to identify personal data theft categories that could harm nation security should the data be exported as well as a list of countries where data can be shared either with or without restrictions.

These countries, either labeled high risk or low risk, will be determined as such based on “the adequacy and enforcement of the country’s privacy and export control laws, the circumstances under which the foreign government can compel, coerce, or pay a person in that country to disclose personal data and whether that foreign government has conducted hostile foreign intelligence operations against the United States,” a news release about the bill states.

Aside from the reports, the bill sets regulations for all personal data exports by data brokers and firms to restricted foreign governments and ensures the rules do not apply to First Amendment protected speech such as that by journalists and it applies export control penalties to senior executives who either knew or should have known if their employees “were directed to illegally export Americans’ personal data,” the news release states.

The bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Republican Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio and Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California.