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CES 2019: Industry experts advise caution in pursuing GDPR-like measures in US

As U.S. regulators consider how to improve data privacy safeguards in the U.S., a landmark set of laws enacted in Europe in 2018 could serve as a guideline — but cultural and technological differences should be considered in adopting any new U.S. rules, industry experts said.

At technology trade show CES, a panel of experts representing business, government and advocacy groups all agreed that more privacy safeguards are needed in the U.S., but the exact parameters of what should be enacted and how remained open to debate.

Maureen Ohlhausen, a former Republican commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, said it would be difficult for the U.S. to adopt aspects from the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR the sweeping new privacy law that took effect in Europe in May 2018 since technology continues to rapidly advance.

GDPR created a series of rules designed to strengthen the protections around how EU citizens' data is collected, stored and managed. The law requires companies to obtain unambiguous affirmative consent from a user before collecting or processing the user's personal data, among other provisions.

Ohlhausen said the FTC needs stronger tools in order to enforce digital privacy rules in the U.S. in order to make them "more seamless" for businesses and consumers to follow.

For his part, Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on data privacy issues, said the U.S. must ensure that any privacy approach is consistently implemented for large and small companies alike.

"Whether you're a startup or a big player, people want certainty," Polonetsky said at the panel.

Other panelists said any GDPR-like legislation passed in the U.S. must take into account cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe.

"The libertarian nature of our founding versus Europe is a fundamental difference," said Darrell Issa, a former Republican congressman representing California. "[The U.S. and Europe are] different in some cases and [we must] figure out how we can get common rules."

Whatever privacy approach the U.S. decides upon, Jeffrey Zubricki, Walmart Inc.'s director of global public policy, said it will be key to balance the "right elements of enforcement [with] the right elements of consumer protection."

Additional coverage from CES 2019:

CES 2019: Viacom CEO waves off CBS merger, says car is next content catalyst

Tech policy execs call for privacy, infrastructure reform to boost 5G

IBM taps crowd-sourced data streams to better predict the weather

LG teases 5G phone, rollable TV

Samsung teases 5G phone, touts leadership in the burgeoning technology