Key Words: Americans are ‘absolutely appalled’ by the lack of a national data-privacy law, says Republican Sen. Blackburn


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Money & Politics reporter

Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday talked up the need for a federal law that would deliver better protections for personal data, even as analysts don’t think bipartisan agreement on the issue is likely in the near term.

Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn made this point:

Before winning her Senate seat last year, Blackburn had served in the House of Representatives.

“But I will say I’m so pleased to see so many of the components that we have discussed through the years beginning to be points that people are coalescing around — things like a federal preemption,” added the Tennessee lawmaker, who spoke at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that focused on proposals to protect consumer data.

There is, however, a partisan split over the potential for federal preemption of the privacy laws passed in California and other states. Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy, tweeted that Wednesday’s hearing showed that the biggest sticking points for a national privacy law continue to be the preemption of state laws and the right of individuals to sue for privacy legislation.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal was among the committee members calling for action.

“Here’s a bulletin from outside the Beltway: People are angry and scared, more than ever before. They don’t care whether it’s a federal law or a state law. They want a law,” Blumenthal said.

“You will see state laws all around the country. Hopefully they won’t create too much inconsistency, but that’s where we’re going if we fail to act.”

The Connecticut lawmaker added that the reason that people are angry and scared is that “they feel, rightly, that this data belongs to them and they are losing control over it. They want that control back, and they want a means of enforcing the law.”

Related: How the number of data breaches is soaring — in one chart

Any nationwide privacy law would follow the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that took effect last year and the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic senators last week rolled out a Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act that wouldn’t preempt state laws and would let individuals sue for privacy legislation. Then on Monday, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the commerce panel’s chairman, floated his Consumer Data Privacy Act that would preempt state laws and not include that right to action for individuals.

Related: GOP senator raises concerns over data-protection rules hurting small businesses

While some analysts say lawmakers won’t find common ground on data privacy before the 2020 election, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Cameron Kerry, wrote Tuesday that he remains upbeat.

“Although separate Republican and Democratic bills are not the joint bipartisan proposal widely anticipated for several months, the bills and the hearing this week kick off the concrete discussion about privacy legislation that stakeholders have been waiting to join,” Kerry said.

“You don’t have to be a ridiculous optimist to expect that behind-the-scenes work will continue, and to hope that it can yield a bipartisan proposal capable of passage in 2020.”

Lawmakers have been increasingly scrutinizing Facebook Inc.

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  and other companies over how they handle their users’ data. That attention has come after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and other corporate foul-ups in which the personal information of millions of Americans has been exposed.

Wednesday’s hearing featured representatives from Microsoft Corp.

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 and Walmart Inc.

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 , with each of them calling for a national privacy law.

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