Two US Committees Ready to Talk Privacy Regs

Two US House committees will hold hearings next week, each focusing on data privacy as public pressure continues to mount for regulations that address protecting American consumers.

On Tuesday, February 26, the House Consumer Protection and Commerce subcommittee will hold its hearing, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in the Era of Big Data.” The following day the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a separate hearing, “Privacy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States.”

Focused on possible actions that can be taken to “address risks to consumers and implement data privacy protections for all Americans,” the Senate hearing is a step toward establishing legislation, according to a press release.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the committee chair, said, “In an age of rapid innovation in technology, consumers need transparency in how their data is collected and used.

“It is this committee’s responsibility and obligation to develop a federal privacy standard to protect consumers without stifling innovation, investment or competition. As we continue to examine this critically important issue, I hope this first hearing will offer valuable insights that will help set the stage for meaningful bipartisan legislation.”

The hope is that there will be some bipartisan consensus that will pave the way for consumer data-privacy legislation in Washington, though there are obstacles to a federal framework, including state privacy laws, according to Mary Devlin Capizzi, a partner in the government and regulatory affairs practice at Drinker Biddle & Reath.

“We’re seeing a proliferation of privacy bills at the state level,” she points out. “If Congress is unable to pass federal legislation this year, then by next year we could have a half-dozen states with their own laws and standards.”

Though other states have made some progress, California has emerged as the front-runner in passing the California Consumer Privacy Act, which takes effect next year. As more states attempt to address privacy concerns with similar regulations, there is increasing potential that in lieu of a federal framework, there will instead be a patchwork of privacy laws from different states.

“A number of Democrats in the House have indicated that they won’t support a bill that preempts state laws, unless the bill also includes strong privacy protections,” said Peter Blenkinsop, co-chair of Drinker Biddle’s information privacy, security and governance practice.

“So the key question is whether legislation can be crafted that provides strong protections without alienating the business community. Efforts by Intel, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and others to put forward proposals that do just that are a step in the right direction."

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