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High-profile attempt to write a national privacy law snags

A man and woman in work attire speak to each other
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Concerns about how a possible bipartisan privacy bill in the Senate is being negotiated have complicated talks in recent days, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The talks between six members of the Senate Commerce Committee are seen as one of the more serious efforts to create a national privacy law that can address consumer concerns about data collection by companies like Google and Facebook.

Members of the Commerce Committee — including Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) — have been in longstanding talks over a possible bipartisan privacy bill.

  • The group grew out of a partnership between Moran and Blumenthal.
  • Later in the process, top committee Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate's leadership, joined the conversations.

Details: Complicating matters is the fact that Cantwell has made it clear to Wicker that she wants to negotiate one-on-one on a privacy bill, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

  • She delivered that message at a meeting with the committee chairman on Tuesday, according to three sources.

That bilateral approach would be at odds with how the existing group of committee members has been handling their work.

  • That group had scuttled a meeting set for Wednesday, Thune said.
  • A Democratic committee aide with direct knowledge of the situation said that it had always been Cantwell's position that bilateral talks between her and Wicker would yield the best result. That view had been reinforced by what Cantwell saw as improper leaks coming out of the legislation-drafting process, the aide said.
  • Politico Pro was the first to report that Cantwell's concerns had complicated the negotiation process.

What they're saying: "A little bit of a pause button [has] been hit here lately but I think it will get pulled back together," said Thune. "We were going to meet today and that got pushed, but I think it will get back on track."

  • Blumenthal said in a statement that inaction "is what Big Tech wants," adding that he's "been at this fight as a consumer watchdog for more than 30 years, and I’m not stopping now.”

The bottom line: Getting the consensus necessary to pass a national privacy law, potentially governing countless industries across the economy and the data rights of hundreds of millions of people, was already hard. This likely makes it harder.