GOP senator introduces privacy legislation after bipartisan talks break down

GOP senator introduces privacy legislation after bipartisan talks break down
© Greg Nash

When negotiations between the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee over the country's first online privacy bill broke down late last year, two other lawmakers on the committee pledged to forge ahead with their own separate effort, reminding their colleagues that any successful privacy legislation will need bipartisan support to gain traction in the Senate.

Now, those talks — between Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls MORE (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — have fractured, as well, with both senators conceding that their disagreements over the federal privacy bill were insurmountable after months of negotiations. 

Moran on Thursday introduced his privacy bill, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, which would create new safeguards around how tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are allowed to collect and use the personal information of their billions of users. And it would require those companies to protect that data from hacks and breaches.  

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“It is clear that Congress needs to act to provide consumers and companies with a clear federal standard that lays out robust protections for consumers’ personal data," Moran said in a statement, "and I encourage my colleagues to support the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act as the federal standard for comprehensive privacy legislation." 

Moran's bill includes provisions that would protect users' privacy as well as keep their data secure from intrusion. The legislation would allow people to access, correct and erase the personal data companies have collected about them, and require businesses to take "precautionary steps" to protect that information.

It would also offer the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general new resources to enforce those privacy standards.  

A spokesman for Moran told The Hill that Blumenthal and Moran agreed on a "significant portion of the substantive consumer protections that a federal privacy framework would contain," but they ultimately disagreed over how to enforce those standards.

"There were potentially harmful provisions pertaining to enforcement that the senators could not agree upon," the spokesman said. "Sen. Moran believes the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act is a comprehensive bill that should receive support from both sides of the aisle.”

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Meanwhile, Blumenthal said the senators "always knew these issues would be tough to solve."

“This anticipated framework reflects Senator Moran’s priorities, just as the statement of principles I joined reflect mine," Blumenthal said in a statement to The Hill, referring to a set of privacy bill priorities offered by key Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee last year.

"I appreciate Senator Moran’s collaboration and look forward to continuing the conversation with him and our colleagues,” Blumenthal added.

The breakdown on Thursday is only the latest episode in a series of complicated and tense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who have been unable to come to significant consensus over how a privacy bill should look. 

Last year, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Bottom line GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney MORE (R-Miss.) and ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellOvernight Energy: Supreme Court reinstates fast-track pipeline permit except for Keystone XL | Judge declines to reverse Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget MORE (D-Wash.) offered dueling versions of legislation to create more privacy for Americans online, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for failing to cooperate after a months-long effort to put out a bipartisan bill.

All of the proposals show some substantive common ground, but there are still stark differences over how far to go and where to draw the line. 

Moran's legislation would override state laws, a top Republican priority in the privacy talks. It does not include a provision that would allow individuals to sue companies over privacy violations, a key element that Democrats have pushed for and remains a sticking point in congressional negotiations.

Right now, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the Western world without a comprehensive law providing safeguards around how corporations collect personal information on their users. 

It's unclear if there is any path forward for privacy legislation over a year after talks began.