Observers ponder impact of Markey's Senate bid on Energy and Commerce

Rep. Edward Markey's (D-Mass.) run for Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) seat may leave the House Energy and Commerce Committee without one of its longest-serving members and fiercest advocates for online privacy rights.

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Markey announced last week that he plans to run in the special election for Kerry's Senate seat, which will be open if Kerry is confirmed as secretary of State by the Senate next year.

Markey is the first person to formally announce their candidacy in the Massachusetts special election race, though it is believed that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who was defeated in November by Democrat Elizabeth Warren, will run as a GOP challenger.

It's too early to say how the race will shake out, but Markey's Senate bid has some observers questioning how his possible departure from the House will affect the dynamics on Energy and Commerce.

Markey has been active on energy policy during his time on the committee. He has also served as a leader on its telecommunications subpanel for more than 20 years and is credited for his work on prominent cable TV and telecom legislation.

"His institutional memory is unbelievable," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group.

The Massachusetts Democrat has been a vocal proponent of net-neutrality rules, which require Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally, and hammered the now-defunct AT&T/T-Mobile merger while serving on Energy and Commerce. Those positions often upset some major industry players.

"There are some good folks on that committee who won't stand up to Google, to the tech industry," Sohn said. "He'll stand up to anybody."

When reviewing policy, "he doesn't think about what Google is going to think, what is Comcast going to think, and what would Verizon think," Sohn added.

Markey's Senate bid is also causing some to question who will possibly fill his role as co-chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, a position he shares with Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). Markey has made online privacy one of his top policy issues as personal information has become more available on the Web and social media.

"There are very few privacy issues that have emerged over the last couple of years that he has not weighed in on," said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a partner at lobbying firm Monument Policy Group. "I think he has basically been active across the board on privacy issues."

She added that there are several members on Energy and Commerce who are engaged in online privacy issues, but said "it's hard to say in the new year who will be more active."

Within the past year, Markey has questioned Facebook, Google and Microsoft about their privacy practices. He also introduced legislation that would require drone operators to follow a set of privacy safeguards, as well as a bill that would require companies to inform consumers if monitoring software is installed on a mobile phone or app they purchase.

Kerry has been viewed as an advocate for online privacy rights during his time on the Senate Commerce Committee. Last year, he introduced comprehensive privacy legislation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Sohn said Kerry's departure from the committee will "be a loss" because of his work on online privacy and open Internet matters, but that Markey would be a natural candidate for a seat on Commerce.

"That's right in his wheelhouse," she said.

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