New Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy and Technology Outlines Priorities for the 117th Congress

Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) is beginning to flesh out his aggressive agenda for the Subcommittee in the 117th Congress, which “shares” a lot of jurisdiction with Senator Maria Cantwell’s Senate Commerce Committee on data privacy. It will be interesting to see how Cantwell and Coons interact this Congress both on comprehensive data privacy legislation and on more point issues like facial recognition, Section 230, and healthcare privacy.  

Coons plans to hold social media platforms accountable this Congress (he’s already considering hauling the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter before his panel) — even as the tech companies try to go it on their own by self-regulating.

Here are the highlights so far from Coons:

  • Self-regulation: Coons says while letters and hearings help guide the industry to better self-regulate, he believes that it is critical that the Senate gets up to speed and passes meaningful legislation on data privacy.
  • Section 230: President Biden raised eyebrows on the campaign trail calling for a “full repeal” of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (of 1996), which says an “interactive computer service” cannot be treated as the publisher of third party data. Coons has not discussed the issue extensively with the Administration, but he wants his Committee to develop deeper knowledge on the issue and potentially legislate on its consequences for innovation, competition, and protection of privacy and civil liberties.
  • Facial Recognition: Coons remains concerned on facial recognition technology (chiefly what he says is a tendency to misidentify people of color). He plans to hold a hearing in the near term, and drop new legislation once the Senate gets up to speed (Coons had sponsored facial recognition bills as the Ranker).
  • Healthcare Privacy: Top tech companies, including Amazon and Google, are moving aggressively into healthcare, which is only speeding up during the coronavirus pandemic and with that comes extensive data privacy concerns. Coons has said his Committee will take a look at the changes in the space throughout the Coronavirus pandemic in the coming months.
  • Comprehensive Data Privacy Bill & Working with Senate Commerce: Coons has said that data privacy falls in an area of a few Committees’ jurisdiction, and Cantwell’s Commerce Committee has principal jurisdiction. Thus far, that Committee has been at loggerheads on a bipartisan approach (they remain divided on the main issues: private right of action and federal preemption). Coons says he is trying to find ways to support the Commerce Committee in moving forward. However, if they can’t find an approach soon, he may introduce a Judiciary-only bill.