On October 10, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held the second in a series of hearings on the subject of consumer data privacy safeguards. The hearing entitled “Consumer Data Privacy: Examining Lessons From the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act” heard from consumer privacy advocates on lessons from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018, and what types of consumer protections should be considered in future federal legislation. Committee Chairman, Senator John Thune, opened the hearing by emphasizing the importance of promoting privacy without stifling innovation. Senator Thune stated that, while understanding the experience of technology and telecommunications companies in this space is important, any new federal privacy law must also incorporate views from affected industry stakeholders and consumer advocates.

The consumer privacy advocate witnesses agreed there is a need for heightened consumer protections and rights, and that the time is ripe to have a debate on what a consumer data privacy law at the federal level would look like and how it would work with state level laws. However, witnesses cautioned that federal legislation should create a floor and not a ceiling for privacy that will not prevent states from passing their own privacy laws. One of the witnesses who led the effort behind the California ballot initiative that resulted in the CCPA emphasized that federal legislation should contain a robust enforcement mechanism, while a witness from the Center for Democracy & Technology said that (i) lawmakers should give the FTC the ability to fine companies that violate consumers’ privacy and provide the agency with more resources; and (ii) a federal law should cover entities of all sizes and clarify what secondary and third-party uses of data are permissible.

Among other things, the hearing also discussed topics addressing: (i) GDPR open investigations; (ii) support for state Attorney General enforcement rights; (iii) privacy protections for children, including the strengths and weaknesses of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, particularly with respect to children ages 13 and older; and (iv) consumers’ rights to control their personal data.