Senate turf war brewing over web privacy

The leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee sent a clear message to the Judiciary Committee this week: Online privacy is our territory.

Commerce chairman Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) took the unusual step of writing to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing their opinion that the Commerce Committee is the natural home of any online privacy legislation.

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At issue is the announcement from Judiciary chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Senate opens Trump impeachment trial MORE (D-Vt.) last month regarding the formation of a new Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law with Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Al Franken mocks McConnell: 'Like listening to Jeffrey Dahmer complain about the decline of dinner party etiquette' MORE (D-Minn.) serving as chairman and Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.) as ranking member.

According to the subcommittee's website, the panel will focus on providing oversight of privacy issues related to social networks, online advertising and emerging technologies, among other areas.

That rankled Commerce committee members, who have already begun work crafting online privacy legislation under Rockefeller's leadership. The incident demonstrates the growing importance of online privacy as a consumer and political issue that touches the lives of the majority of Americans.

"We are concerned about the description of the Subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee website and are puzzled insofar as the jurisdiction described appears to be beyond the scope of the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee under the Senate Rule XXV," wrote Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison.

"Legislation related to such matters lie squarely within the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee...As you undoubtedly know, the Senate Commerce Committee  for many years has focused on attention on the need to protect consumers' privacy interests."

Sources told Hillicon that Commerce staffers were blindsided by the announcement of the new subcommittee without first discussing how the new subpanel would coordinate with Commerce on privacy issues.

But a Judiciary aide said Commerce was taking a narrow view of privacy as solely a consumer issue and said there is clearly a role for the Judiciary Committee in privacy-related issues.

The aide noted Judiciary considered privacy legislation as recently as the data privacy bill from Sens. Leahy and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah) in the last Congress and was adamant that Judiciary coordinates with Commerce frequently on privacy and other related issues and will continue to do so in the future.

Sen. Franken's office declined to comment on Friday, deferring to Sen. Leahy. Leahy's office said he was traveling on Friday and therefore unable to review the letter and issue a comment.