The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Speaker Pelosi should bring the privacy bill to a vote

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. At left is Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the committee's ranking Republican. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Congress has proved itself adept at missing opportunities to pass the type of federal privacy law that an overwhelming majority of voters support. Lawmakers should avoid displaying this talent again as the midterms approach.

The American Data and Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA) advanced out of committee in the House last month — the furthest such a piece of legislation has managed to travel since legislators began promising they would set nationwide rules for how companies handle consumers’ personal information in the digital age. Objections in both chambers have dampened any optimism that this time, finally, a bill will pass: from worries about the draft’s preemption provisions to concerns about enforcement. But none of these issues should deter Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) from bringing this legislation to the floor.

Members from California especially have been reluctant to throw ADPPA their support — with some voting the bill out of committee but announcing they’d reject its current form on the floor, and others simply voting no. These representatives believe their state’s own law is stronger, and they don’t want a nationwide standard to supersede it. Yet not only has the federal legislation already been altered to ensure that California’s dedicated enforcer can enforce ADPPA, too, but its standards are also more robust in almost every important area, from its civil rights protections to its privacy by design and data minimization requirements. The most valid criticism from California is that ADPPA could prevent the state from innovating in the future with standards that go beyond what Congress has put into place. But that’s little more than a hypothetical. By shielding people from exploitation today, ADPPA would improve the status quo everywhere — including in the Golden State.

ADPPA’s private right of action has also prompted cries of protest, and it, too, has seen changes that ought to allay any distress. Originally, individuals weren’t allowed to sue companies until four years after the law’s enactment; now, they’ll have to wait only two years. Most significant, presumably in response to concerns from Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), there’s now a ban on forced arbitration for disputes involving gender-based violence or physical harm — so that companies can’t deprive consumers from seeking recourse for these grave violations in court. Smaller clarifications have cleaned up procedural problems that could have impeded some claims.

This legislation is a compromise years in the making. Not everyone is going to be happy with everything in the bill, but enough people should be happy with enough things to push it through to passage. Congress should take a vote on privacy as soon as possible and break its losing streak.

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