A group of Republican senators introduced a bill to create a national data privacy standard, formally bringing forth a bill that had been released as a staff draft almost a year ago.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet; and Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced the Setting an American Framework to Ensure Data Access, Transparency, and Accountability (SAFE DATA) Act on Sept. 17.

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“It is time to pass a uniform, national privacy law,” said Sen. Wicker, in a release. He said the bill “would provide all Americans with baseline protections and more transparency, choice, and control over their data” and “would also strengthen the FTC’s [Federal Trade Commission’s] ability to hold businesses accountable when using data for nefarious purposes.”

With the state of California’s privacy law going into effect this year, there have been calls for Congress to implement a national privacy standard. Sen. Thune says the bill does that.

“Importantly, the legislation sets a single national data privacy standard for consumers,” said Sen. Thune, in the release. He said the “introduction of the SAFE DATA Act is the right step toward a more comprehensive online transparency and reform effort.”

Sen. Wicker released a staff draft of the legislation last November. “Since its release, the introduced bill has been updated to clarify definitions, expand the scope of data that is covered under the bill, and protect consumers from being manipulated by algorithms used by online platforms,” according to the release.

The bill is one of several pieces of privacy legislation released in the past year. The House Energy & Commerce Committee also released a draft last year, but the House bill has not yet been formally introduced.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted Sen. Wicker to reassert the need for a Federal privacy standard at a “paper hearing” in April.

“The collection of consumer location data to track the coronavirus, although well intentioned and possibly necessary at this time, further underscores the need for uniform, national privacy legislation,” Sen. Wicker said.

The Senate committee is scheduled to discuss the SAFE DATA Act at a hearing on Sept. 23 titled, “Revisiting the Need for Federal Data Privacy Legislation.”

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Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.