Tech Lobby Head Urges Privacy Standards to Avert Divergent Rules

(Bloomberg) -- The president of a trade group that represents Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and other tech companies urged faster development of national privacy norms to avoid divergent state rules.

The Wednesday comments by Dean Garfield of the Information Technology Industry Council came less than two weeks after California passed a sweeping privacy law, a mention of which prompted him to sigh audibly.

The law, which allows consumers to opt out of the sale of their data, among other provisions, alarmed some of the lobbying group’s members as a potential template for other state or national legislation.

"You don’t want fragmentations among states," said Garfield at an Washington event on the government’s role in artificial intelligence. "What I would suggest is moving quicker and trying to come up with certain standards and norms that are broadly applicable."

While other tech trade associations have been vocal about concerns over the California push, ITI has kept largely silent in the latest debates, despite having convened some of its members to discuss privacy regulation in the days leading up to passage of the bill.

Industries often fight regulation, but sometimes prefer a single federal approach to divergent state rules. Different segments of the tech industry have struggled to agree on privacy principles even as Europe has adopted tough data rules and U.S. lawmakers have called for legislation.

Garfield said his group was also scheduled to discuss a "paradigm around data and data privacy" with the Commerce Department later in the day.

Representative John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat who also spoke at the event, said "a bunch of citizens" will push for state regulation as they feel increasingly that they "don’t have any control" over their data.

"Inevitably what will happen is there’ll kind of be a patchwork of state regulations," said Delaney, who co-chairs a group of lawmakers interested in AI. "Then it feels to me like there’s going to be a role for the federal government to try to synchronize these things."

Walter Copan, director of a portion of the Commerce Department that develops technology standards, then said it was "important" for the government to have "a clear voice" in the debate.

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