Will Congress pass an online privacy bill?

by Jeff Sovern

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce has forwarded to the full committee a bipartisan bill (draft here, though perhaps not the version the subcommittee approved; section-by-section commentary here). The last I heard, Senator Cantwell, the Senate Commerce Committee chair, had not signed on, putting the bill's future in doubt. The bill would give consumers the right to see what companies know about them, whom the information has been shared with, correct errors, and direct the business to delete the data. On the positive side, the bill also provides for a private claim for injured consumers and in addition provides that arbitration clauses are ineffective to block such claims. On the negative side, the bill preempts the state online privacy laws, including those passed in California, Virginia, Utah, etc., and limits the amount injured consumers can recover to actual damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. That raises questions about whether consumer injuries will be sufficient to cause them to sue. Cases can be brought as class actions but I wonder about the impact of TransUnion's standing requirements on class members. The bill has a lot more in it that will be of interest to consumer law folks.

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