Pa. House panel examines consumer data privacy bill

Legislation to protect consumer data privacy drew mixed views from businesses and business groups Wednesday during an information-gathering meeting before a House committee.

The Commerce Committee looked at House Bill 1201 aimed at protecting consumers’ digital privacy, allowing them to access their personal information that’s been collected, giving them legal rights to decline or opt out of the sale of their personal information and banning the sale of all private information for consumers under age 16.

HB1201 sponsored by Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, would give the state attorney general authority to enforce a digital privacy law.

The committee heard from four business-oriented groups and received written testimony.

The opening testifier, Jay Summerson, a Microsoft executive, said his firm supports HB1201 because it provides strong consumer rights, lets consumers opt out of intrusive data collection, places obligations on companies to be better stewards of consumer data and puts sole authority for law enforcement in the hands of the attorney general.

Committee Majority Chairman John Galloway, D-Bucks, asked how far can state lawmakers go in regulating this matter. He said the committee plans to form a working group on the issue.

“In an ideal world, this would be a federal solution,” said Mr. Summerson, adding he’s not aware of any challenges to a state’s authority to deal with this issue.

Tim Knapp, counsel for Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, said the federation supports the bill concept, but added the insurance industry wants an exemption from it because they are already regulated by federal and state laws regarding sharing any consumer information.

“We are a very heavily regulated industry,” said Mr. Knapp.

This issue affects the personalization of the shopping experience, said John Holub, executive director for the Pennsylvania Retailers Association. He said the association generally supports the legislation because it protects retailer’s ability to provide discounts offered through consumer loyalty programs.

“We strongly support enforcement by the attorney general,” said Mr. Holub.

Mr. Holub said the bill’s exemption for small businesses that process less than 50,000 transactions annually is a low threshold and should be higher.

In written testimony, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said it would prefer a federal law addressing this topic, but acknowledged that Congress has yet to act.

Chamber executive Alex Halper said any state law on consumer data privacy should recognize that employers may struggle to interpret the law and provide an opportunity for missteps to be corrected, draw a distinction between consumer data and standard personal data that employers collect from employees and recognize that some personal data is important to societal goals from public safety to improving medicine and health among other objectives.

Sens. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery and Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, have sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.