Bipartisan House bill offers new data privacy protections but faces big hurdle in Senate

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee kickstarted its push for new federal privacy law on Tuesday, reviewing a bipartisan proposal that faces an uphill battle with Democrats in the Senate.

The American Data Privacy and Protection Act intends to minimize the collection of people’s data, create protections for Americans against discriminatory use of their data, and give people the ability to turn off targeted ads online. 

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s bipartisan leaders, Reps. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, authored the proposal alongside Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican. 

Mr. Pallone, the committee chairman, said the bill is needed to restore choice to consumers online and it represents the first serious attempt at a comprehensive national privacy bill with bicameral and bipartisan support. 

“People cannot navigate the modern world without their smartphone or email address and with the minimal protections that apply today, most Americans have little reason to think that their data won’t be used in unanticipated ways,” Mr. Pallone said at a hearing Tuesday on consumer protection.

Some Democrats were not enthusiastic about the new privacy legislation. 

Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, was absent at the bill’s rollout earlier this month. Her committee, on which Mr. Wicker is the ranking member, will play a key role in enacting privacy legislation.

Ms. Cantwell has said she sides with Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, who urged an alternative process from what the House committee is pursuing.

Mrs. Rodgers, the ranking member of the House committee, said Tuesday that she viewed the bill as supplanting scores of state policies with a national standard that is focused on protecting people, especially children, from Big Tech.

“This draft stops an unworkable patchwork of state laws, ensures protections don’t change across state lines, and provides certainty to Americans and businesses,” Ms. Rodgers said at the hearing.

Advocates for new privacy laws are not sold on the bill as it is now written.

Former Federal Trade Commission member Maureen K. Ohlhausen told lawmakers they need to make changes before advancing the bill. She represented the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, whose members she identified as including AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The bill treats video and broadband services differently from voice services in a way that could disrupt the market for consumers and providers, according to Ms. Ohlhausen.

However, she said her coalition views passing privacy legislation this year as “critical.”

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