Following up on a meeting last week, today the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). The Committee favorably reported (i.e., approved) a modified version of Rep. Goodlatte’s bill, H.R. 2471, which would permit consent to be given to sharing video usage information electronically (1) on a one-time basis or (2) in advance of the disclosure for a set period of time or until consent is withdrawn by the consumer. The modified version approved by the Committee includes an amendment, introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler and supported by Goodlatte, requiring the consent to be obtained distinctly and separate from any other legal or financial terms presented.

Congress passed the VPPA, which protects the privacy of certain video records, in 1988 in the wake of a scandal concerning the release of videotape rentals for then-Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. The VPPA, which has not been amended since passage, currently permits sharing of protected information with consent only if the consent is in “writ[ing]” and obtained “at the time the disclosure is sought.”

At today’s hearing, Rep. Mel Watt initially discussed his plan to introduce an alternative to the Goodlatte bill that would permit “universal” consent in the same manner as Goodlatte’s bill, but unlike Goodlatte’s would provide the choice to grant consent “at the time the disclosure is sought” for a single instance of renting, purchasing, or subscribing to covered videos. However, rather than introduce his bill, Watt eventually stated that he and Goodlatte had agreed to meet in private to work out their differences. Prior to that agreement, Goodlatte criticized Watt’s bill as failing to reflect consumer expectations that information may be shared freely, which they developed for non-video media that are not subject to a specialized law. Watt had contended that his bill reflected weight privacy considerations properly deserved, notwithstanding any technical difficulties it might pose.

Rep. Steve Chabot also agreed to work with Goodlatte and others on an amendment he had contemplated introducing that would require those seeking consent to make a good faith effort to determine whether the person from whom they seek consent is under the age of 18.

We will continue to monitor the bill if it progresses forward.