Congress is considering privacy legislation – be afraid

by Jeff Sovern

That's the title of my latest essay for The Conversation, about how preemption of state privacy laws could harm consumers.  Here's an excerpt:

[R]ather than circumventing state laws, a federal privacy law should work in partnership with them – just as federal laws regulating auto safety such as airbag requirements operate in tandem with state regulations that govern related issues such as how fast motorists can drive.

Industry advocates, however, don’t want federal and state laws to exist side by side because they say companies will have trouble following the rules of different states. Businesses had the same concerns about state data breach laws, and testimony from Marriott’s CEO suggests the company didn’t find it too troublesome to comply with them, however different.

It’s more likely, then, that companies realize that it will be easier for their lobbyists to win a victory in one legislature – Congress – than in 50 states.

Lobbyists have also argued consumers would be bewildered by such a patchwork of state privacy laws. They claimed, for example, that a consumer driving from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Bellevue, Washington, would be confused by the different privacy regimes she would encounter.

But that same person – during that same drive – copes with a wide variety of traffic laws. Drivers seem to be able to navigate those different laws just fine.

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