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 WickerSenators: US allies concerned Senate won't pass annual defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and relevant subcommittee chairmen John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneParnell exit threatens to hurt Trump's political clout Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp MORE (R-S.D.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDemocrats face squeeze on Biden's spending bill Senators seek to permanently expand telehealth eligibility Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (R-Kan.), as well as Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnChina draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai Sunday shows preview: Boosters open to all US adults; House Dems pass spending plan on to Senate Photos of the Week: President Biden, Kenosha protests and a pardon for Peanut Butter 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.

Last year, Wicker and Commerce committee ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellScott says he will block nominees until Biden officials testify on supply chain crisis Airlines staff up for holiday onslaught Manchin set to make or break Biden's climate pledge 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.