Senate Holds Hearing on Legislative Proposals to Protect Consumer Data Privacy

Dec 9, 2019

by ASME.org

Last week, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation met to examine legislative proposals to protect consumer data privacy. Many are calling this initiative America’s response to GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation established by the European Union in 2018. Members of the Committee and witnesses discussed proposals that intend to provide consumers with more security, transparency, choice, and control over personal information both online and offline. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) commented that this hearing marks an important step forward in creating a national data privacy law and strengthening the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to oversee business data practices in the marketplace.

Before the witnesses delivered their remarks, Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted in her opening statement a legislative proposals she recently introduced along with other Senate Democrats, the Consumer Online Privacy Act. Senator Cantwell shared that she believes this legislation would work to establish privacy rights, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and improve data security safeguards for the record number of American consumers who now shop or conduct business online.

Five expert witnesses went on to discuss how a Federal data privacy framework supported by the FTC, if implemented properly, would help prevent individual states each making their own privacy frameworks, ensuring that data is protected equally across the United States. Witnesses included:

  • The Honorable Julie Brill, Former Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Microsoft
  • The Honorable Maureen Ohlhausen, Former Acting-Chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Co-Chair, 21st Century Privacy Coalition
  • Ms. Laura Moy, Executive Director and Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology
  • Ms. Nuala O’Connor, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel, Digital Citizenship at Walmart 
  • Ms. Michelle Richardson, Director of Privacy and Data, Center for Democracy and Technology

In her testimony, the Honorable Julie Brill commented that “U.S. privacy law has generally failed to keep pace with advances in technology and to provide Americans with the protections they want and need in this digital age.” This sentiment—that Federal policy is not keeping pace with technological advances when it comes to ensuring privacy—was shared among the witnesses. Ms. Brill went on to share four necessary components for a strong federal privacy framework: transparency, consumer empowerment, corporate responsibility, and strong enforcement. The Honorable Maureen Ohlhausen too outlined three key attributes of a successful Federal privacy policy: consumer choice, a national standard of protection, and extreme accountability and enforcement.

How a national framework would affect small businesses was a hot topic of discussion, as larger companies could more easily comply with Federal regulations, while smaller companies may not have the resources. Though this delicate situation must be considered when forming and implementing Federal privacy protection policy, Ms. Michelle Richardson recommended that “legislation not categorically exempt small businesses [as] they may collect, use, and share data in many of the same ways as larger entities. From the perspective of an individual consumer, the harms they experience are not mitigated because a company has fewer customers or makes less money. A privacy law that is clear and reasonable need not put an undue compliance burden on smaller entities.”

For more information, or to view a recording of the hearing, please visit: https://www.commerce.senate.gov/2019/12/examining-legislative-proposals-to-protect-consumer-data-privacy.