The key House committee with jurisdiction over privacy legislation is changing from top to bottom, undergoing as big a change as any committee in Congress, and is experiencing the largest turnover of Members and leadership in more than two decades. These changes will have a profound impact on not just who is driving the privacy agenda but also how quickly the committee can act.
The House Energy & Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over privacy legislation and the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, and in the past has tried to tackle privacy and consumer-protection legislation in a bipartisan fashion. In the last Congress, the drivers of the debate on privacy legislation were the Subcommittee leaders: Congressmen Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), along with Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) and full Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX), one of the founders of the Privacy Caucus. But in this Congress, the players are almost completely different. For starters, Rep. Boucher is out of Congress, Barton is out of a leadership role, Waxman is out as Chair, Upton is in, and Rep. Stearns is now chairing an Oversight Subcommittee. Taking Boucher’s place is Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who has not been particularly involved on privacy issues and is more likely to defer to Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who is the new chair of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee. What that means is that the Members who led the long discussions with industry last year on drafting a privacy bill will no longer be in the room as the Consumer Protection Subcommittee considers privacy legislation.