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Data Privacy in the 116th Congress

Brad Weltman Promoted to VP, Public Policy, IAB 1

Now that the midterm election results are in, it’s time to take a look at the new landscape for our issues in Congress, which is set to undergo changes that could reshape policy in a number of key areas.  Amid wide-ranging investigations and contentious hearings that will likely cover healthcare, climate change, and immigration, IAB will be closely watching the conversations around online privacy, data security, and everything in between.

Over the past two years, the scrutiny has increased over issues most central to our industry.  Congress has grown impatient with the cavalier uses – and misuses – of consumer data, and the drumbeat toward privacy reform has become louder. Foreign interference in American elections, the fallout from Cambridge Analytica, and large-scale data breaches have all led to an evaporation of patience from House and Senate Members, who are demanding accountability now more than ever.  Some have released drafts of new privacy principles for their congressional colleagues and industry to consider, while others have been waiting for the midterm elections to shift the balance of power.  Now that the dust is settling and freshman House Members and Senators prepare to come to Washington, privacy agendas will take shape, and both newcomers and veterans will drive it forward.

But no matter who holds the committee gavels when Congress begins its new session in January, American media, marketing, and technology companies – many of which are global leaders in their relevant markets – are already facing major headwinds and new challenges from policies that weren’t originated in Washington, but rather Europe, and California. It’s resulting in a frenzy of advocacy in the halls of the House and Senate, with industry stressing to lawmakers how a fractured regulatory environment will stifle innovation in the online ecosystem, and how the unintended consequences of the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will compound the problem. In this environment, IAB is proactively working toward a federal framework that provides clarity and market certainty, while preserving the value of the advertising-supported internet. Our primary goal is to ensure that consumers remain at the center of the conversation and that their online experience remains vibrant and accessible.

Luckily, there are leaders in Congress who are dedicated to learning as much as they can from both industry and the public interest community alike, and new voices will emerge after new committee assignments are determined.  IAB members are eager to collaborate toward a Federal privacy framework that works for everyone, and Democratic Senators Ed Markey, Brian Schatz, and Richard Blumenthal will ensure that consumer safeguards are in place, and transparency and user controls continue to improve.  Their voices on the Senate Commerce Committee, in addition to the leadership of Republicans John Thune and Roger Wicker, will keep the momentum going.  And although it’s yet to be determined if they will be joined by incoming Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn, the odds are she will be given a seat on the Committee to continue her long-standing commitment to internet issues.

On the other side of the Capitol, where Democrats will set the agenda for the first time in eight years, the House Commerce Committee will be busy looking into numerous areas of the economy, with our industry’s issues likely front and center.

The likely chairman, Frank Pallone from New Jersey, is a cop-on-the-beat for the responsible collection and use of consumer data, while Jan Schakowsky from Illinois could inherit the gavel of the subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.  Her staff has a deep history in privacy and data security policy, and will ask the tough questions should any relevant bills start to move.

The meaningful collaboration between Congress and the digital advertising industry is more important than ever, as 2019 could be a year of sweeping new regulation for our industry.  IAB’s policy team is eager to continue advocating for more transparency and the responsible use of consumer data, and will build off the track record of strong self-regulation demonstrated by the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, and the Coalition for Better Ads.  The momentum toward passing a national online privacy framework is at a fever pitch, and IAB and its member companies are ready to help the incoming 116th Congress get it over the finish line.


Dave Grimaldi
Executive Vice President of Public Policy
at IAB