On October 6, 2021, the Senate Commerce Committee conducted its second in a series of hearings dedicated to consumer privacy and data, this time addressing Data Security. Similar to last week’s privacy hearing, the witnesses and Senators appeared to agree that federal data security standards – whether as part of privacy legislation or on their own – are urgently needed. If there were to be consensus around legislative principles, the hearing provides clues about what a compromise might look like.
Prepared Statements. In their opening statements, the witnesses emphasized the need for minimum standards governing data security.
- James E. Lee, Chief Operating Officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center, explained that without minimum requirements, companies lack sufficient incentives to strengthen their data security practices to protect consumer data. Lee also advocated for more aggressive federal enforcement rather than the patchwork of state actions, which, he said, produce disparate impacts for the same conduct.
- Jessica Rich, former Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and counsel at Kelley Drye, emphasized that current laws do not establish clear standards for data security and accountability. She advocated for a process-based approach to prevent the law from being outpaced by evolving technologies and to ensure that it accommodates the wide range of business models and data practices across the economy. Among her recommendations, Rich suggested that Congress provide the FTC with jurisdiction over nonprofits and common carriers and authority to seek penalties for first-time violations.
- Edward W. Felten, former Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer, former Chief Technologist of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and current Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, focused on the need to strengthen the FTC’s technological capabilities, including increasing the budget to hire more technologists. Notably, Felten advocated for more prescriptive requirements in data security legislation such as requiring companies to store and transmit sensitive consumer data in encrypted form and prohibiting companies from knowingly shipping devices with serious security vulnerabilities.
- Kate Tummarello, Executive Director at Engine, a non-profit organization representing startups, addressed the importance of data security for most startups. Tummarello advocated for FTC standards or guidance with flexible options. Cautioning against overburdening startups, Tummarello explained that newer companies take data security seriously because they do not have the name recognition or relationships with consumers that larger companies may have, and a single breach could be extremely disruptive. Additionally, Tummarello highlighted that the patchwork of state laws provides inconsistent and unclear data security guidance and imposes high compliance costs.