PRI’s Bartlett Cleland Quoted in Federal Data Privacy Article

Democrats control Congress. Will 2021 be the year for federal privacy laws?

By Samantha Schwartz

Democrats cemented control of federal executive and legislative branches this week, after two Democrats won run-off Senate elections in Georgia. The transition creates the potential for a federal privacy law to make it out of chambers of Congress, though no one is holding their breath.

Partisan and bipartisan data privacy proposals get caught up most frequently in differences between a citizen’s right to sue a company for data infringement and a federal law’s ability to overrule existing state laws. Even with a Democratic majority, the path toward federal data privacy legislation is a little muddy.

“I see three potential paths forward,” said Daniel Castro, VP of ITIF and director of the Center for Data Innovation, including:

  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation quickly resolves the “outstanding issues” of preemption and private right of action. “Given how long the process has been so far, I’m not very optimistic on the likelihood of this option,” said Castro.
  • A bipartisan group lands on a more centrist bill.
  • Or a Democrat-led Congress could “start with a clean slate,” he said.

The Biden administration has already signaled a push for national privacy rules. “We should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy,” President-elect Joe Biden said to The New York Times last year.

Now that he has a Congress leaning in his favor, it’s up to members to meet at the privacy crossroads.

“Right now it’s about how much is changing on Capitol Hill. In the end both chambers are almost exactly divided on privacy legislation,” said Bartlett Cleland, senior fellow for Technology and Innovation at Pacific Research Institute, in an email. “Perhaps now that environment is present in Congress, but I think it’s a bit too early to really know.”

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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