Lawmakers Note Agreement, Differences on Data Privacy

At a Jan. 28 event in Washington, D.C., a Republican senator said that data privacy is his “favorite issue,” two Democratic congresswomen said there is “a sense of urgency” regarding the topic and a Republican congresswoman said a bipartisan bill “needs to happen.”

But none of the lawmakers indicated that a bill is likely to pass this year.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said his goal is to produce “a national, uniform data privacy framework” that is “workable for businesses” and will “foster investment and innovation.”

In December 2019, Wicker released a discussion draft of a bill that would preempt state laws and that does not include a private right of action – that is, the ability of citizens to file lawsuits in response to data privacy violations. Democrats tend to be on opposite sides of these issues, opposing preemption and supporting a private right of action.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) spelled out GOP support for preemption, saying a “patchwork” of dozens of different requirements is bad for everyone: “You’re creating more confusion for consumers and making it very difficult for businesses.” In addition, she expressed opposition to a private right of action, arguing instead that enforcement should be left to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.

McMorris Rodgers is the ranking Republican on the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, which in December released its own discussion draft that was developed by staffers from both parties. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), subcommittee chairwoman, appeared at the event shortly after McMorris Rodgers and said that the panel has received about 90 comments about the draft, which, as is often the case with bipartisan bills, apparently has managed to displease nearly everyone: “A lot of people on all sides are really not happy,” she said about the comments.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) has proposed her own bill and advocated at the event for Congress to act: “We should have a very strong sense of urgency about this.”

Despite the differences, and the challenges of legislating during an election year, some cautious optimism remains. McMorris Rodgers said there is “an opportunity around privacy” and Schakowsky said that passing a data privacy bill this year remains her goal. But she quickly added, “We’ll see.”