On August 1, the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee issued a press release announcing the creation of a bipartisan Privacy Working Group in the U.S. House of Representatives. The group’s composition includes Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) serving as co-chairs, Representatives Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Pete Olson (R.-Tex.), Mike Pompeo (R.-Kan.), Schakowsky, Bobby Rush (D.-Ill.), and Jerry McNerney (D.-Cal.). The Subcommittee’s announcement stressed the group’s plans to take a bipartisan approach and the need to balance a consumer-oriented focus with fostering growth and innovation.
The group held its first meeting on September 26, inviting participants from the private sector for an informal, roundtable format discussion about how companies deal with online privacy issues and their thoughts regarding Congressional involvement. Representatives from Google, Walmart and data broker BlueKai attended, with discussions centering on the companies’ data collection practices. Referring to the crash-course nature of the discussion, Blackburn called it “Privacy 101.”
In response to the closed-door nature of the September 26 discussion, consumer groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG, and Consumer Action sent Representatives Blackburn and Welch a letter dated October 1, acknowledging the importance of the meetings but calling for the Working Group’s meetings to be conducted in a public format in accordance with the “Open meeting and hearings” provision contained in the Rule of the House of Representatives for the 113rd Congress. Specifically, the letter signatories stressed the need for the group’s meetings to be ones in which a public record is created, reporters and news organizations are in attendance, and various viewpoints are heard
While it remains to be seen what Blackburn’s and Welch’s response will be to the consumer privacy groups’ letter, nine additional sessions are planned for the next several months. The intention is to include members of industry, government and consumer groups and “create the conditions where there is some capacity for consensus,” according to Welch.