Congress is likely to spend most of this year debating the details of various privacy measures, so it's unlikely that a comprehensive privacy bill would be voted on anytime soon.
Despite the flurry of
privacy bills that have been introduced in Congress recently, legal experts
don't expect to see a comprehensive privacy-protection law being passed anytime
There have been a lot of
discussions about implementing the "Do Not Track" measure to give consumers a
way to opt out of data tracking and to control what information is being
collected by various Websites during the past few months. In response, several
lawmakers have introduced comprehensive privacy legislation, including the "Do
Not Track" bill from Sen. John D Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and the "privacy
bill of rights" from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Even with the broad
bipartisan and popular support, these bills will likely linger for a few years
as Congress hammers out the details, Jim Halpert, a partner at DLA Piper, told
eWEEK. He expects the bills to take approximately four to five years to pass
through the Senate.
"Something that has a
significant impact on the economy in general tends to get kicked around
Congress for a bit," said Halpert.
Congress is hesitant to pass
a bill that could jeopardize the Internet economy. One or several online
privacy bills would place restrictions on businesses, specifically what
companies could do with customer data, Chris Wolf, a privacy attorney at Hogan
Lovells, told eWEEK.
It's possible a targeted
privacy law would emerge, instead of a broad consumer privacy law, said Wolf. A
targeted law would focus on a specific area, similar to how there are security
protections for children's privacy online, health care data and financial
security, according to Wolf. However, Wolf did not consider the proposed "Do
Not Track" bill in the House of Representatives an example of a targeted law
because the possible implementation was still very broad.
"Everyone is talking about
protecting all the data," said Wolf, who noted that there was little-to-no
consensus on how this could be achieved. There are a lot of different opinions,
and it would take time to address the issues.
To date, Congress has not
passed a single piece of privacy legislation that covers all offline data. In
addition, Wolf believes that the odds of passing one law for online data remain
Just because the issue of
online privacy is "popular" with the public doesn't necessarily mean that
translates into its being a "high priority" on the legislative agenda, Halpert
said. There is a lot of focus on privacy right now, thanks to several high-profile
data breaches and concerns about mobile
devices collecting location data, but there is no immediate crisis that
would force Congress to move quickly, according to Halpert.
"They will pass privacy
legislation in due time, but they are not in a hurry," Halpert said.
In contrast, there is an
"increased chance" that there will be a comprehensive cyber-security
law coming out of this session of Congress, according to Wolf. The
cyber-security law would address the question of protecting the critical
infrastructure and securing systems from cyber-attackers. On May 12, the Obama
administration addressed some of the major points that were part of at least 50
distinct measures introduced last year. Of those 50 proposals, eight dealt with
protecting critical infrastructure.
It is likely that Sen. Henry
Reid (D-Nev.) will be reconciling the existing bills and the proposals to
introduce a new harmonized version, according to Wolf.
There are more areas of consensus
for cyber-security than currently exists for privacy legislation because the
cyber-security bills are "not prescriptive," Wolf said. They tend to be
process-oriented and focused on establishing a framework rather than defining
what businesses have to do.
By the same token, Halpert
thought the online piracy bill, PROTECT
IP, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), giving the Justice Department
authority to take down Websites distributing or selling counterfeit items,
would be more likely to reach the floor for debate and vote. There is broad
industry support for the bill, from the recording companies, Hollywood and
other "copyright owners," said Halpert.