The pace of privacy legislation at the federal level has begun to pick up, with news that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) both will introduce comprehensive privacy bills in the coming days or weeks.

In discussing Senator Kerry’s proposal, staff have suggested that it will build on the three key privacy principles that Kerry announced late last year following the release of the FTC’s privacy report:

  1. All firms must put procedures in place to secure personally identifiable information.
  2. Consumers have a right to know in clear and concise terms what firms intend to collect, why, and how it will be used.
  3. Consumers should be given a simple mechanism for opting out of the process.

Among other provisions, the Kerry draft is expected to include a safe harbor provision that will encourage participation in an industry-wide opt-out program.

On the House side, Representative Rush is expected to reintroduce his privacy bill from last Session, potentially with the addition of a do-not-track component based roughly on the do-not-track proposal included in the FTC’s privacy report.

While Kerry and Rush are perennial participants in the privacy debate, the surprise newcomer is Jackie Speier, a freshman Democrat from California.  Formerly a state legislator, Speier’s consumer protection focus historically has been on safety issues, such as vehicle and consumer product defects.  But she is not a stranger to consumer privacy, having sponsored a California financial privacy bill during her time in the state legislature.  According to Politico, Speier’s bill will be “narrowly tailored” to do-not-track.  Rather than handling technical details in the bill itself, Speier would authorize the FTC to conduct a rulemaking proceeding to decide exactly how do-not-track should be implemented.

It’s not yet clear whether Speier’s bill will gain traction in the House — particularly given that it will be competing with Rush’s bill, which has a more established track record. In both cases, though, because they are being introduced into a majority-Republican House the bills may face an uphill climb unless Rush and Speier find Republican co-sponsors for the measures.

Regardless of what happens with these individual bills, against the background of the FTC and Department of Commerce privacy proceedings, what is clear is that broad-based consumer privacy legislation will be a key issue for consumers and businesses that care about privacy to focus on this Congress.