U.S. senator says privacy bill draft could come early next year

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A much-anticipated bill that may give the U.S. government the ability to collect civil penalties if a company misuses consumer data on the internet or allows it to be stolen could be drafted early next year, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.

A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski/File Photo

A subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee discussed elements of the bill on Tuesday, including the possibility that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could be given the authority as enforcer to oversee telecommunications companies and non-profits, exact civil penalties and create regulations.

There is no agreement on the language of the bill, which was motivated by massive breaches of data privacy that compromised the personal information of millions of U.S. internet and social media users. These include notable breaches at large retailers and credit reporting agency Equifax Inc.

Members of U.S. Congress from both parties have criticized Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc over data breaches, a lack of online privacy options and concern about political bias.

Republican Senator Jerry Moran, chairman of the consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security subcommittee, said although he supported privacy rules he was not sure about imposing civil penalties.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said at the hearing he hoped a draft would be finished “early in the session (next year).”

“I have been working with Sen. Moran on a bipartisan privacy bill that I hope will make very good progress very soon,” he said.

Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said his committee was also exploring privacy legislation but did not give details.

One unresolved question is whether the federal bill will pre-empt a California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in June giving consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information, including allowing consumers to request data be deleted and to opt out of having data sold to third parties.

The rules follow stringent European privacy regulations that went into effect in May.

Democrats, including Blumenthal, oppose pre-empting the California bill. Big technology companies support the idea.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall