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Bipartisan Support Seen Needed

Cantwell, Senate Democrats Unveil Privacy Bill With Consumer Right of Action

Led by Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell, Wash., Senate Democrats Tuesday unveiled federal privacy legislation. It has a provision Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., regards as a nonstarter (see 1911250058).

The Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act includes a private right of action, which would allow individual consumers to sue privacy violators. It wouldn't pre-empt state laws, another nonstarter for Republicans. Joining Cantwell were Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The legislation would establish a new bureau within the FTC to handle digital privacy issues, and it includes consumer rights to access, control, move and delete their data.

Consumers deserve two things: privacy rights and a strong law to enforce them,” Cantwell said in a statement. “They should be like your Miranda rights -- clear as a bell as to what they are and what constitutes a violation.”

The bill reflects Democratic values, but “any privacy bill will need bipartisan support to become law,” Wicker said in a statement. “I am committed to continuing to work with the ranking member and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get a bill that can get across the finish line. I expect that we will have a bill to discuss at next week’s hearing.” The committee is holding a data privacy hearing Dec. 4.

Like Wicker, many industry groups suggested that legislation will need bipartisan support to advance. Consumer groups applauded Democrats for taking a stand on consumer privacy and extending protections under California’s new privacy law.

Public Knowledge supports both a private right of action and a federal bill that sets a floor for state law, not a ceiling, Policy Counsel Dylan Gilbert told us. The legislation shows that Democrats are serious about protecting consumer privacy and aren’t willing to water down provisions, he said. It remains to be seen whether bipartisan discussions will continue between Cantwell and Wicker, Gilbert said. He acknowledged reportedly ongoing discussions between Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., as well as House Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Schakowsky recently offered us a positive outlook for ongoing talks. A spokesperson for Moran said he and Blumenthal are working on their bill. Blumenthal's office didn't comment.

Common Sense applauded Democrats for building on protections in the California Consumer Privacy Act. Combined with updated children’s protections, the legislation “would go a long way toward ensuring companies are held accountable,” CEO James Steyer said.

The Internet Association hopes “to continue discussions that will lead us closer to a bipartisan solution that will ensure all Americans benefit from strong privacy protections on and offline,” said Senior Vice President-Global Government Affairs Michael Bloom. IA supports “meaningful control and the ability to access, correct, delete, and download data.”

The bill would "severely restrict legitimate uses of consumer data, limiting the opportunities for companies to collect, use, and share data to innovate,” said Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Vice President Daniel Castro: “It would severely restrict legitimate uses of consumer data, limiting the opportunities for companies to collect, use, and share data to innovate.” Computer & Communications Industry Association seeks “a productive conversation between legislators, businesses, consumers and advocates” at the upcoming hearing.

The bill “provides a strong starting point that will move bipartisan debate forward, with private rights of action, limits on preemption, and the definition of sensitive data likely to be points of ongoing negotiation,” said Future of Privacy Forum CEO Jules Polonetsky. The bill “creates a private right of action with statutory damages, harms America’s mid-size businesses, and fails to provide a comprehensive privacy law for the country,” NetChoice said. Vice President Carl Szabo noted it ignores data collection by nonprofits, banks and healthcare providers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hopes the bill will advance bipartisan talks, Senior Vice President Tim Day said. “Any national privacy standard must have the support of Republicans and Democrats. Privacy legislation should protect all Americans equally and instill certainty -- not confusion.”

Any lasting privacy solution will need to be bipartisan, said BSA|The Software Alliance Vice President-Legislative Strategy Craig Albright. BSA applauded inclusion of “the distinct role of service providers so consumers have clarity about how to exercise their rights.” BSA doesn’t agree with everything in the bill.