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Congress

Rockefeller to Leahy: Hands Off Privacy Legislation

March 11, 2011

There's nothing like a good old fashioned turf battle to unite Democrats and Republicans. While they welcome the new Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, the top members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee say authority over privacy issues lies squarely with their committee, according to a letter obtained by Tech Daily Dose.

In the letter to Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ranking Member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D- W.V., and Ranking Member Kay Baily Hutchison, R-Texas, say they are "concerned about the description of the (Judiciary Privacy Technology and the Law) Subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee website and are puzzled insofar as the jurisdiction described appears to be beyond the scope of the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee."

They insist that privacy legislation is solely covered by the Commerce Committee. "In this Congress members of the Commerce Committee have made consumer privacy issues a priority," the letter reads. "The Commerce Committee is actively engaged in overseeing privacy interests in the commercial realm, and in protecting consumer interests in this regard."

The Commerce letter ends with a cordial assertion that "Consumers can benefit from vigorous oversight by both our committees, and we want to be sure that - as the Senate rules provide - our committees do not duplicate efforts in this area." But they warn, "we will carefully follow the work of the Judiciary Committee and its new subcommittee."

A Judiciary Committee aide said the committee has received the letter and is reviewing it. "The Judiciary Committee has worked on privacy related issues - criminal, civil and consumer protection - for decades, including Sen. Leahy's data privacy legislation," the aide told Tech Daily Dose. "We've also coordinated with the Commerce Committee on these issues for decades" and Leahy plans to continue to collaborate.

Leahy announced the new privacy subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in February. The website description of the committee's jurisdiction is included below:

"(1) Oversight of laws and policies governing the collection, protection, use and dissemination of commercial information by the private sector, including online behavioral advertising, privacy within social networking websites and other online privacy issues; (2) Enforcement and implementation of commercial information privacy laws and policies; (3) Use of technology by the private sector to protect privacy, enhance transparency and encourage innovation; (4) Privacy standards for the collection, retention, use and dissemination of personally identifiable commercial information; and (5) Privacy implications of new or emerging technologies."

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