FTC commissioner ‘somewhat optimistic’ about data breach bill

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen thinks Congress can get together and pass legislation to protect consumers when hackers steal their data online, she said on Monday.

At the State of the Net Wireless conference, she said she was “somewhat optimistic” about the prospect of a bill, after a series of headline-grabbing data breaches in recent months.

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“I think there has been continuing interest in Congress and I think some of these big data breaches have kept the energy up behind it,” she said.

“It’s very difficult,” she added. “Congress, obviously, has a lot on its plate...[but] I have found on a bipartisan basis there has been an interest in better data security guidance and having legislation in that regard.”

The comments from Ohlhausen, one of two Republicans on the five-member FTC, came on the same day that Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel resigned from his post, months after a data breach exposed as many as 110 million shoppers’ information.  

The Target hack, along with similar breaches at Neiman Marcus and the craft chain Michael’s, led to a renewed interest for a cyber bill in Congress, but support has yet to coalesce around any particular legislation.  

One popular idea has been a law to outline how and when companies and other organizations notify people when their information might have been stolen. Business groups have pushed for a bill to replace the dozens of state laws currently on the books, and consumer groups say it could help set a baseline for data security, though some have worried about the possibility of weakening state laws.

“I think there is something for everybody in this area,” Ohlhausen said.