Senate Commerce Republicans Vow To Introduce Privacy Bill To Govern COVID-19 Apps and Tech

Key Republican stakeholders on privacy legislation float a bill on COVID-19 relating to privacy that seems unlikely to garner the necessary Democratic buy-in to advance.  

Late last week, key Republicans on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation announced they would introduce the “COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act” that provide new privacy and data security protections for the use of a COVID-19 contact tracing app and similar technologies. To date, text of the legislation has not been released and so any analysis of the bill is derived from a short summary issued by the committee and reports from media outlets that have apparently been provided a copy of the bill.

Based on this information, to no great surprise, the basic structure of the bill tracks privacy and data protection legislation previously introduced by the co-sponsors of the new bill: Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) (See here for analysis of the “Consumer Data Privacy Act of 2019”)and Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jerry Moran (R-KS) (See here for analysis of “Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act of 2020” (S.3456)), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) (See here for analysis of the “Balancing the Rights Of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly Act of 2019” (BROWSER Act) (S. 1116)). In short, people would be provided with notice about what information the app collects, how it is processed, and with whom and under what circumstances this information will be shared. Then a person would be free to make an informed choice about whether or not she wants to consent and allow the app or technology to operate on her smartphone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general would enforce the new protections, and as there was no mention of a private right of action, and given these Members opposition to such provisions, it is likely the bill does not provide such redress. Moreover, according to media reports, the bill would preempt state laws contrary to its provision, which would be another likely non-starter among Democrats.

Wicker, Thune, Moran, and Blackburn claimed their bill “would provide all Americans with more transparency, choice, and control over the collection and use of their personal health, geolocation, and proximity data…[and] would also hold businesses accountable to consumers if they use personal data to fight the COVID-19 pandemic” as they asserted in their press release.

Wicker, Thune, Moran, and Blackburn provided this summary of the “COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act:”

  • Require companies under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to obtain affirmative express consent from individuals to collect, process, or transfer their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information for the purposes of tracking the spread of COVID-19.
  • Direct companies to disclose to consumers at the point of collection how their data will be handled, to whom it will be transferred, and how long it will be retained.
  • Establish clear definitions about what constitutes aggregate and de-identified data to ensure companies adopt certain technical and legal safeguards to protect consumer data from being re-identified.
  • Require companies to allow individuals to opt out of the collection, processing, or transfer of their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information.
  • Direct companies to provide transparency reports to the public describing their data collection activities related to COVID-19.
  • Establish data minimization and data security requirements for any personally identifiable information collected by a covered entity.
  • Require companies to delete or de-identify all personally identifiable information when it is no longer being used for the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Authorize state attorneys general to enforce the Act.

If such legislation were to pass, it would add to the patchwork of privacy and data security bills already enacted that are geared to addressing certain sectors or populations (e.g. the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” (HIPAA) protects some healthcare information and “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” (COPPA) broadly protects children online.)

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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