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Congress eyeing national privacy rules in wake of California law

A hand is poised over a phone touchscreen
Online data privacy has begun to concern policymakers globally. Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Both Silicon Valley and privacy advocates are eyeing the potential for federal privacy legislation after California lawmakers passed their own sweeping measure.

Why it matters: In the wake of California’s bill and the recently-enacted General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union, industry may prefer a single national standard — and privacy advocates may applaud, too, preferring even partial nationwide rules to none at all.

The big picture: Many lawmakers have been working on privacy bills in the last several months, as concern has mounted on Capitol Hill about the way that online platforms use personal data. No single idea has broken through, however, and policymaking is likely to stall as the midterm elections approach.

There‘s the possibility a federal law could preempt state law in California and potentially other states that pass their own bills.

  • “I think that there is some discussion to be had about that,” said the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Jordan Crenshaw, at a Thursday panel hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus. “In terms of what is preempted, in the long run I think the more we have the federal government involved with this data issue, that's better than the states creating a patchwork.”
  • He added that the business lobby was working towards developing its own privacy principles.

There was some optimism about the chances for a bill to move through Congress, despite a tough legislative environment. “I don’t know that the bill will look like I would hope, in my fevered imagination, but I think it’s possible that there will be elements of protection that get put into play,” said Michelle De Mooy, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Privacy and Data Project.

The bottom line: The pressure on federal lawmakers will mount with the approach of the 2020 implementation date of the California law, which tech will also be lobbying to change.

New development: The White House backed the idea of federal privacy legislation on Friday morning.

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