Apple preaches privacy. Lawmakers want the talk to turn to action.

Apple preaches privacy. Lawmakers want the talk to turn to action.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook privately hosted six Democratic lawmakers at the company’s space-age headquarters this spring, he opened the conversation with a plea — for Congress to finally draft privacy legislation after years of federal inaction.

“It was the first issue he brought up,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), one of the lawmakers who made the trip to Cupertino, Calif. The Apple chief “really talked about the need for privacy across the board,” said DelBene, a former Microsoft executive.

But when DelBene discussed her own privacy bill, which would require companies to obtain consent before using consumers’ most sensitive information in unexpected ways, Cook didn’t specifically endorse it, she said.

A number of privacy advocates and U.S. lawmakers — who did not attend the meeting — say Apple has not put enough muscle behind any federal effort to tighten privacy laws. And state lawmakers, who are closest to passing rules to limit data sharing, say Apple is an ally in name only — and in fact has contributed to lobbying efforts that might undermine some new data-protection legislation.

While Apple formally supports the notion of a federal privacy law, the company has yet to formally back any bills proposed on the Hill — unlike Microsoft. “I would argue there’s a need for Apple to be a more vocal part of this debate,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), a fierce critic of tech companies for their privacy violations.

And in California, Washington and Illinois, home to the most significant state privacy bills, the iPhone giant has sought to battle back or soften local legislators’ proposed bills, often through its trade associations. That has frustrated lawmakers such as California Assemblyman Marc Levine (D), who has introduced two privacy bills in his state’s legislature this year. He and others argue that states represent the best hope for privacy legislation given the lack of federal progress. Read more

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