(Updated with comments from Jon Leibowitz in paragraphs 9-10.)
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California Democrats are calling on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to ensure a leading privacy bill doesn’t undermine their state law.
Momentum has gathered behind a bipartisan, bicameral effort to pass a federal privacy law (H.R. 8152) after years of stalled negotiations. Industry grappling with a patchwork of state laws, and consumers fearing their data is being misused, have long called for Congress to act.
But as the committee gears up to hold a vote next week, a fresh wrench has been thrown in the bill’s path. California Democrats want to make sure the federal standard doesn’t weaken their state law by taking precedent over it. That issue of preemption has been one of the most contentious throughout the negotiations.
“At the top of my list is the strongest law in the country’s, which is California’s and that was by design by the Californians who voted for it,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in an interview. “We need to work with the committee to satisfy my apprehensions right now.”
The California Privacy Protection Agency sent Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a memo outlining why the bipartisan bill would harm residents in her home state. The California Privacy Rights Act established the five-member board to carry out and enforce the state law.
“While extending privacy protections nationwide is important, under this bill, it would come at the expense of Californians’ rights,” the July 1 memo obtained by Bloomberg Government says.
The agency confirmed sending it to Pelosi; her office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The bill would likely prohibit the state agency, “with its singular expertise,” from enforcing the federal standard and reduce resources to protect Californians’ privacy, such as the significant power the agency has to audit businesses, the memo states.
But Jon Leibowitz, who served as Federal Trade Commission head under former President Barack Obama, said the bipartisan bill is stronger than California’s because it includes civil rights protections, prohibits ads targeted at minors, and requires the FTC to develop of a tool for consumers to opt out of having their data collected across all websites.
“We need to make sure state agencies have the ability to enforce the federal law, but the federal law is going to be considerably more protective for consumers than California’s,” Leibowitz said. “Plain and simple.”
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said he is looking into whether the bipartisan bill is as strong as California’s and whether there are any conflicts with the state law.
A committee vote, originally planned for Thursday, was postponed to next week while lawmakers continue to examine and work on the bill, Ruiz and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) said.
“I’m not running for reelection but I would not want to go back to voters and say we weakened your privacy protections,” McNerney said. “The committee is working hard to make sure that isn’t the case. We have to get it done quickly, we’re running out of time.”
McNerney said he has heard concerns from Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). Cárdenas’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) is reviewing the bill and consulting with California stakeholders and House colleagues, her press secretary, Kevin McGuire, said in an email.
Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said she has heard from California Democrats who want to be exempted from the federal standard. “We’re working through it,” she said. “The language that passed out of subcommittee enjoyed broad support.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will soon meet with Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to discuss the privacy bill, Hoyer told reporters Wednesday, adding “there’s controversy to that bill as to what ramifications it has to states and to other interests.”
With assistance from Emily Wilkins
To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org