Technology experts speaking at the State of the Net conference today agreed that comprehensive legislation and enforcement is necessary to better protect consumer data, and that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should play a bigger role in that enforcement.

Former FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny echoed the same sentiment of Apple CEO Tim Cook who has argued that the FTC should have regulatory power to enforce privacy legislation.

“I happen to personally believe that the FTC having some regulatory authority would be helpful in this area,” McSweeny said today when speaking about privacy legislation.

While panelists at today’s event agreed that there should be some sort of legislative framework for protecting consumer data, they also warned against one-size-fits-all regulatory fixes. They also discussed roles for attorneys general under the theory that the FTC can’t be everywhere at once.

Chris Calabrese, VP for Policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, suggested a shift from placing responsibility for data protection on the consumers, and instead onto the institutions that are collecting data.

“We put too much burden on the individual to try and solve this problem,” Calabrese said. “We don’t expect people to walk into a building and check the fire codes or make sure the fire extinguishers all exist. We just assume that society built that stuff in. I think we need to start doing that for privacy and data.”

Expanding on that notion, panelists discussed the idea of consumers giving “predetermined consent,” because they do not understand what they’re consenting to, or the technology requiring them to consent to data collection is manipulating consumers to do so. Legislation protecting data privacy, they said, should provide for more than one “consent box” to check so that technology companies don’t enjoy an excessive amount of flexibility with what data they can access and utilize.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.