Biden’s SOTU: Data privacy is now a mandatory US discussion topic

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European Union The 2018 General Data Protection Regulation provides less than perfect data privacy protection, but it contrasts sharply with the paucity of legislation in the United States, where there is currently no comprehensive federal data privacy law. However, in his second State of the Union address tonight, US President Joe Biden focused more than ever on the need for such a measure.

With political control of the US Congress now divided, Biden said the data privacy law could be bipartisan. The idea has been gaining momentum in recent years, and Biden’s mention of data privacy issues in his State of the Union sets the precedent that this topic should be of real concern to US presidents and the public.

“Finally, we need to hold social networks accountable for the experiments they are doing. [on] children for profit,” Biden said during his speech, drawing thunderous applause from members of both parties. “The time has come for bipartisan legislation to prevent major tech from collecting personal data about our children and teens online. Ban targeted advertising for children and impose stricter restrictions on the personal data that companies collect about all of us.”

Prior to the Biden administration, US presidents rarely mentioned data privacy in the State of the Union. Former President Donald Trump never mentioned the topic in any of his annual addresses. Former President Barack Obama only mentioned the topic once during his 2014 State of the Union address after the previously undisclosed extent of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs came to light. He then said, “As I work with this Congress, I am reforming our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public trust here and abroad that the privacy of ordinary people is not violated.”

In his first State of the Union in 2022, Biden spoke about data privacy in relation to child protection. “The time has come to strengthen privacy protections, to ban targeted advertising for children, to require technology companies to stop collecting personal data about our children,” he said at the time.

Biden’s remarks today went even further, signaling a change in conventional wisdom about the urgency of improving data privacy protections in the US. However, it is not clear if this move will lead to productive actions in 2023. In his speech, Biden urged lawmakers to cooperate, a dynamic lacking in both houses on Capitol Hill. “To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there’s no reason why we couldn’t work together and find consensus on important issues in this Congress as well,” he said.

All across the US political spectrum would probably agree that the previous Congress was not a prime example of a highly effective, cooperative legislature. By including a mention of data privacy in the State of the Union, Biden is putting additional pressure on his administration and lawmakers to address an issue that affects everyone.

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