Key Republican senators to introduce coronavirus-related data privacy legislation

Key Republican senators to introduce coronavirus-related data privacy legislation
© Greg Nash

A group of key Republican senators announced Thursday they intend to introduce legislation aimed at protecting consumer data privacy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act would require companies to have consumers opt in before having their data used to track the spread of coronavirus and allow them to opt out at any point.

The legislation would also direct companies to tell consumers how their data would be used, to whom it might be transferred and for how long it would be held.

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The legislation would also have companies publicly share transparency reports on how they use data to combat coronavirus and delete personally identifiable information once it's no longer needed for the public health emergency.

The legislation is set to be jointly introduced by Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBottom line GOP rallies around Trump after firing of Manhattan US attorney Bipartisan bill introduced to provide 0B in relief for restaurants MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and relevant subcommittee chairmen John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell: Trump shouldn't veto defense bill over renaming Confederate bases Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties MORE (R-S.D.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranWatchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' probe report Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Mayor Quinton Lucas MORE (R-Kan.), as well as Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnUS lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization Hillicon Valley: Trump tweet gets warning again | Australia under cyberattack | North Face pulls Facebook ads Republicans take aim at Google in fight to remove legal shield MORE (R-Tenn.), a key player in past data privacy negotiations.

“As the coronavirus continues to take a heavy toll on our economy and American life, government officials and health-care professionals have rightly turned to data to help fight this global pandemic,” Wicker said in statement.

“This data has great potential to help us contain the virus and limit future outbreaks, but we need to ensure that individuals’ personal information is safe from misuse. I am pleased to join Senators Thune, Moran, and Blackburn in introducing legislation to address this critical issue," he continued.

The coronavirus-specific legislation comes as the powerful Senate Commerce Committee continues to struggle to come to a bipartisan consensus on a federal data privacy law, which would aim to create safeguards around how businesses collect personal information about Americans.

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Last year, Wicker and Commerce committee ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellOVERNIGHT 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 Key Republican jeopardizes nomination of Trump consumer safety pick MORE (D-Wash.) offered dueling versions of such legislation, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for failing to cooperate after a months-long effort to put out a bipartisan bill.

While some proposals, including another that Moran introduced this year, show significant common ground, some key sticking points remain.

Republicans have long pushed for a federal bill that would preempt state laws, a position that has gained importance since the passage of California's landmark privacy law, which Republicans have said is too stringent.

Democrats have resisted preemption while also pushing for a private right of action, which would let individual consumers sue companies over privacy violations, to be included in any federal legislation.