On September 26, 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened a hearing on Examining Consumer Privacy Protections with representatives of major technology and communications firms to discuss approaches to protecting consumer privacy, how the U.S. might craft a federal privacy law, and companies' experiences in implementing the EU General Data Protection Regulation ("GDPR") and the California Consumer Privacy Act ("CCPA").
After introductory remarks by Senator and Chairman of the Committee John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), representatives from AT&T, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Apple and Charter Communications provided testimony on the importance of protecting consumer privacy, the need for clear rules that still ensure the benefits that flow from the responsible use of data, and key principles that should be included in any federal privacy law. A question and answer session followed, with various senators posing a variety of questions to the witnesses, covering topics such as comparisons to global data privacy regimes, the current and potential future authority of the Federal Trade Commission, online behavioral advertising and political advertising, current privacy tools and issues surrounding children's data.
Key views expressed by the witnesses from the hearing include:
- support for the creation of a federal privacy law and a preference for preemption rather than a patchwork of different state privacy laws;
- agreement that the FTC should be the regulator for a federal privacy law but the authority of the FTC under such a law should be discussed and examined further;
- concern around a federal privacy law attempting to copy the GDPR or CCPA. A federal privacy law should seek to avoid the difficulties and unintended consequences created by these laws and the U.S. should put its own stamp on what the law should be; and
- agreement that a federal law should not be unduly burdensome for small and medium sized enterprises.
An archived webcast of the hearing is available on the Senate Commerce Committee's website.
The hearing marked the first of several as the U.S. debates whether to adopt federal privacy legislation. The next hearing is scheduled for early October where Andrea Jelinek, head of the European Data Protection Board, Alastair MacTaggert, California privacy activist, and representatives from consumer organizations will participate and answer questions on consumer privacy, the GDPR and the CCPA.
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