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 faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and relevant subcommittee chairmen John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief says he opposes invoking Insurrection Act for protests | White House dodges on Trump's confidence in Esper | 'Angry and appalled' Mattis scorches Trump Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump Blumenthal to introduce legislation to limit Trump's power under Insurrection Act MORE (R-S.D.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMemorial Day during COVID-19: How to aid our country's veterans Pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns MORE (R-Kan.), as well as Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters Five things to know about Trump's legal power under the Insurrection Act Bipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies 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 CantwellSenate Dems introduce bill to keep pilots and bus and train operators safe Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Trump nominee for Consumer Product Safety Commission involved in CDC guidance shelving: AP 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.