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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 WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states Hillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Tech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing MORE (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and relevant subcommittee chairmen John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Pollsters stir debate over Trump numbers MORE (R-S.D.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes MORE (R-Kan.), as well as Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO next week Government efforts to 'fix' social media bias overlooks the destruction of our discourse 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 CantwellZuckerberg to express openness to Section 230 reform Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference 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.