House panel to hold hearing on data privacy legislation

A House panel will hold a hearing later this month on data privacy legislation, set to take place one day before the Senate holds a hearing on the same topic.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) on Wednesday announced that the consumer protection subcommittee will hold the hearing on Feb. 26.  

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The committee has not yet announced witnesses for the hearing. 

The Senate Commerce Committee is set to hold a similar hearing titled “Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States” a day later on Feb. 27.

Along with the hearing announcement, Pallone released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that suggests Congress should consider "developing comprehensive legislation on Internet privacy that would enhance consumer protections and provide flexibility to address a rapidly evolving Internet environment." The chairman requested the report two years ago.

"Since I requested this report, the need for comprehensive data privacy and security legislation at the federal level has only become more apparent," Pallone said in a statement. "From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the unauthorized disclosures of real-time location data, consumers' privacy is being violated online and offline in alarming and dangerous ways." 

"This detailed GAO report makes clear now is the time for comprehensive congressional action on privacy that should include ensuring any agency that oversees consumer privacy has the tools to protect consumers," Pallone said. "These recommendations and findings will be helpful as we look to develop privacy legislation in the coming months."

Lawmakers have increased their volume in calling for a federal privacy bill as tech companies have faced a deluge of scandals over their data collection practices over the past two years. 

The GAO report raises concerns about the Federal Trade Commission's ability to provide oversight of data privacy violations. The FTC, the main body currently tasked with dealing with Internet privacy, has filed 101 enforcement actions on privacy in the last decade, the report found. Nearly all of those actions resulted in settlement agreements, and none resulted in fines because the FTC does not have the authority to levy civil penalties.

The report recommends that the FTC be given the authority to impose fines on companies that violate consumers' privacy.

"Recent developments regarding Internet privacy suggest that this is an appropriate time for Congress to consider comprehensive Internet privacy legislation," the GAO report concludes. "Although FTC has been addressing Internet privacy through its unfair and deceptive practices authority, among other statutes, and other agencies have been addressing this issue using industry-specific statutes, there is no comprehensive federal privacy statute with specific standards."

Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act Dems plan 12-hour marathon Mueller report reading at Capitol US should be producing the HIV prevention drug its research helped create MORE (D-Il.) in the statement wrote that the hearing later this month will be an "important first step" towards federal privacy legislation.