As 2020 begins, Congress continues on a path toward providing consumers with greater protections for their data, lawmakers have exhibited a rare willingness to work toward consensus on the issue. Bills introduced by members of Congress in 2019 often shared more in common than not.

But a hearing (https://www.commerce.senate.gov/2019/12/examining-legislative-proposals-to-protect-consumer-data-privacy) held late in the year by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation revealed differences that remain to be resolved before any bill will pass.

The Committee brought together a diverse panel of five witnesses that included former FTC Commissioners, Vice Presidents of major technology companies and a representative of a civil liberties organization. The panelists largely agreed on what legislation should look like – that a federal bill should mandate corporate responsibility, provide data subjects access and redress rights, require corporate transparency about data practices and protections, and provide the Federal Trade Commission with greater enforcement powers. The discussion in December however, focused on more challenging questions, among them:  How should such a law be enforced?  Should individuals be able to bring a private right of action for violations of the law?

While there was general agreement that companies should be subject to strong enforcement measures, witnesses and lawmakers were divided on what those should be. Witnesses disagreed about what role consumers should play in enforcement.  While some expressed the need for a strong private right of action, others focused on the Federal Trade Commission and whether the agency is sufficiently equipped to take on an enforcement role that is more significant than the one it already plays.  One panelist proposed enforcement modeled after the European approach, in which a separate agency takes privacy responsibility for data protection matters.

Privacy legislation has the backing of legislators on both sides of the aisle.  But the details of such a law remain to be resolved, and what a final law will look like still is not clear.  What is evident is the heightened interest in the need to protect consumer privacy- on the part of Congress, industry and the advocacy community.

Achieved Compliance will watch this debate closely in 2020 and keep you informed about developments.