Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., today called the Online Privacy Act of 2021 that she introduced in the House last year along with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a “good solid piece of legislation” that would regulate the collection, use, and retention of consumers’ online data, but also forecast that the bill has a “long ways to go” in the legislative process before it becomes law.

The Online Privacy Act of 2021 – the successor of similar legislation introduced by the two members of Congress in 2019 – would create new rights for consumers about how their data can be used and would place obligations and limitations on companies that collect and use consumer data. The bill also would create a new Federal agency – the Digital Privacy Agency – to enforce data privacy laws and further shape-related policies.

“Obviously, the introduction of a bill is the beginning, not the end of the process,” said Rep. Lofgren at NVIDIA’s GTC Conference on March 23. “There may be additional things that we learn as we go along.”

“But I will say it is the toughest digital privacy bill that has been introduced in the Congress, I think in the country,” she said. “It would have clear limits on what information could be collected and retained, it elevates user rights, and it broadly defines the information, the data that’s to be protected,” she said.

Speaking about the bill’s aim to create a new Federal agency to regulate digital privacy, Rep. Lofgren said that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – which now fills some aspects of that type of role – “doesn’t have the depth of technology expertise that probably would be required” by the Online Privacy Act.

Saori Kaji, NVIDIA’s Senior Product and Privacy Counsel, interviewed Rep. Lofgren during the March 23 event, and said NVIDIA is “invested in data privacy and seeks to be a thought leader in tackling challenging questions in the space.” She continued, “as we offer breakthroughs that help solve the world’s biggest problems, we recognize data privacy as a human right.”

Asked about progress on the bill since it was filed last November, Rep. Lofgren explained that the legislation was referred to three different House committees that share jurisdiction over the issue, and that only one of them – the House Administration Committee – has managed to hold a hearing on it since then.  

The other two – the House Judiciary Committee on which Rep. Lofgren sits, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee where Rep. Eshoo is a long-time member – have not yet taken any action.

The long road through Congress for any piece of legislation, and some degree of resistance to the measure by industry, means that ultimate approval may be neither quick nor easy, Rep. Lofgren indicated.

Asked by NVIDIA’s Kaji about obstacles that the bill faces, Rep. Lofgren replied, “Congress specializes in not being able to do something … it’s been set up that way.”

The bill, Rep. Lofgren said, will likely require multiple hearings at the committee level, then majority approval by House members, and then a 60-vote margin in the Senate for it to proceed in that chamber. “It’s very difficult to get legislation adopted,” she said.

Although civil liberties and privacy groups have praised the measure, Lofgren said, “obviously, there are commercial interests that would be required to change their business practices for this the law. Although there has not been vocal opposition yet, I would expect that some businesses that might have to change their business practices might not welcome it.”

“So we’ve got a long ways to go,” she said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.