The House of Representatives has begun to dig into data privacy issues.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade recently launched a Privacy Working Group for that purpose.

Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT) are co-chairing the group. Joining them on the panel are Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Jerry McNerney (D-CA).

Do these names sound familiar to you? They should.

  • Rush gained infamy in the survey, opinion and marketing research profession for his 2010 "Best Practices Act," which would have established a comprehensive U.S. data privacy regime. It would have required: opt in for data collection, usage, and transfer; consumer access and correction rights for personal data; extensive data security systems and processes; and periodic privacy assessments. It would have been enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), State Attorneys General, and private lawsuits, and would have given broad and easy authority to the FTC to expand the scope of these restrictions.
  • Welch, Barton and Ranking Member Schakowsky generally favor restrictive privacy legislation and supported multiple amendments during the 2011 subcommittee markup of data security legislation (the Safe Data Act) that would have expanded the data security bill into restrictive data privacy legislation (in the mode of Rush's Best Practices Act).
  • Blackburn and Olson spear-headed the MRA-supported effort to limit FTC authority to expand the definition of personal information during the Subcommittee markup of the Safe Data Act in 2011. The Act already included the standard data and combinations that could lead to criminal abuse of consumers and it is very difficult to go beyond that standard without sliding down a slippery slope where almost any piece of information could ultimately be included in the FTC's definition of “personal information.” The Subcommittee ultimately agreed with MRA and Blackburn and Olson.
  • Blackburn also has her own history of criticizing federal regulators for policy activism, especially chastising the FTC for going beyond their legal bounds.
  • Pompeo led the charge on another amendment to the Safe Data Act that MRA helped with and endorsed, to prevent FTC rulemaking authority on the "data minimization" provisions in the Act. As a broad principle, not collecting or maintaining more data than necessary to fulfill a given purpose makes sense. However, data collection limits and retention periods specifically directed by the FTC could be intensely problematic. The Subcommittee agreed with MRA and Pompeo that such decisions are best left to businesses themselves, at least for now.

Subcommittee Chaiman Lee Terry has already taken a much more careful approach to data security legislation than his predecessor in the chair, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who was beaten in her reelection campaign in November 2012. Chairman Terry wants to take a similarly slow and steady investigation of data privacy possibilities before jumping into legislation. This is in marked contrast to the priorities and aims of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, who wants to make the Do Not Track Online Act his parting legacy.

MRA has already asked Chairman Terry and Subcommittee Ranking Member Schakowsky that the maintenance of the EU-US Safe Harbor for data transfers (and the harmonization of EU privacy rules to a US standard) should be a high priority for their Subcommittee.

“I thank Chairman Terry for appointing me to chair the Privacy Working Group to facilitate looking at these issues in a thoughtful, bipartisan manner. Working together, we will review a broad set of privacy issues, and seek opportunities where Congress can forge bipartisan agreement to better protect consumers’ sensitive information and foster US-based innovation,” said Blackburn upon the launch of the Working Group.

“While advancements in technology have transformed our lives for the better, there has been a related explosion in the online collection of consumer information. It’s more important than ever that we make sure the consumer’s right to privacy is protected. This working group is a bipartisan opportunity to find common ground that ensures consumer privacy as well as continued innovation,” commented Welch.