US Congresspeople really, really want a vote on a national data privacy standard
The United States is close enough to mid-term elections to read the fine print of polling rules. It is so close that backers of a bipartisan bill federalizing personal privacy rules cannot stop themselves from mashing on what they feel are the best few soundbites that polls tell them will make their party look useful.
Mid-terms decide many state and federal seats, excepting the White House.
The Washington Post picked this moment to ask the two leaders of the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee to answer questions about the proposed American Data Privacy and Protection Act. Both are pushing hard to get the legislation passed before the end of the legislative session this year.
Speaking were Frank Pallone, chairman of the committee and a Democratic representative from New Jersey, and Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the state of Washington. The full exchange and several meaningful clips have been posted here; a transcript is here.
During the 29-minute conversation, participants brought up “bipartisan” six times, or about once every five minutes on average.
That is because few issues are allowed to be bipartisan anymore. The two national parties want to claw their way to the mid-terms showing that they can govern if given the most votes. Right now, the Democrats have a slim margin on Capitol Hill and they cannot afford to lose many seats.
Personal data privacy is important for voters but it will not by itself get many people to the polls. That means both sides can safely make compromises without alienating their core supporters.
If both parties can make this happen, they will look like they are not made of irrational zealots.
“California” came up 12 times.
That is because that state has the most significant privacy policies in the nation. The proposed act differs from laws in place in a few states, including California. The legislation would eliminate them all, except almost all aspects of California’s Consumer Privacy Act and Privacy Rights Act.
(Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act also is exempted. BIPA continues to be an example of how to build an almost bulletproof law. Lawyers for class member have asked a federal judge to approve a $6.8 million settlement with Compass Group USA for violating the act.)
The goal here is to get Californians, who probably are more motivated by privacy arguments than people in other states, to accept the trims and overrides imposed by the federal bill.
It is no accident that both McMorris Rodgers and Pallone brought up technology companies – uniformly disparagingly – 16 times in less than a half-hour.
“Big tech keeps saying, oh, we’re going to correct this. Whatever problems are raised by the whistleblowers, we’re going to correct, but they don’t correct anything,” said Pallone.
McMorris Rodgers talked about Big Tech’s censorship, even though censorship under the U.S. Constitution only comes from government action to prevent speech.
Conservatives think that social media unfairly gags their posts because the companies are run by liberals who will not rest until capitalism is gone and everyone is mandated to drive a hemp-fueled car.
Liberals feel that social media companies are operated by greed-heads who are happy to play with algorithms the way a butcher might play with a raw steak in front of a ravenous dog.
Surprisingly, “minimization” only came up five times. It is one of the areas in privacy that there can be found genuine common ground. Few are the companies, legislators or citizens who say there is too little personal information in corporate hands.
Minimization is something California’s lawmakers could learn about from the proposed federal law.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit advocacy group, compared the American Data Privacy and Protection Act and California’s laws, and published a helpful chart. The center found that, overall, the federal bill would be harder on minimization, making it difficult to legally take a person’s information without permission, a good reason or both.
But there are still several weeks left for legislators to lobby each other. The result is hard to handicap other than to say that the tighter the election, the better things look for a federal data privacy law.