iStock_globe.jpgFollowing the change of control in the U.S. House of Representatives, privacy and security issues are frequently raised as likely subjects for hearings and new legislation in the U.S. Congress. Multiple committees in both houses repeatedly express interest in holding hearings and in exploring topics impacting privacy and data security regulations in the United States.

For the Republican leadership in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, internet privacy and cyber-security are on the communications and technology agenda, but these are expected to take a back seat to higher immediate priorities, such as net neutrality, spectrum auctions, and FCC process reform. In addition, the committee backgrounder on “key issues” for the next session released January 18, 2011 seems to express sympathy with the fact that “many industries are concerned with the direction of the FTC’s regulatory priorities,” and suggests that the House will pushback on any Senate initiative to expand its regulatory authority.

In public remarks on January 11, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, identified his committee’s top legislative priorities, including protecting “constitutional rights in the digital age.” He stated:

In the Digital Age and in a time darkened by the threat of terrorism, we face the difficult challenge of protecting the Nation’s networks from growing threats, while encouraging American innovation and respecting privacy rights.  The Judiciary Committee will continue the work we started last year to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, so that security agencies have the tools needed to keep us safe from cyber threats, and our Federal privacy laws keep pace with advancing technology.  The Committee will also examine several emerging privacy issues that are of growing concern to me and many Americans, including the invasive full body screening at our airports and the tracking of Americans’ activities online.  

Meanwhile, on the 20th, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) listed “enacting comprehensive cybersecurity legislation” and “protecting consumer information and privacy on the Internet” as among the key priorities for the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which he chairs.

It will be interesting to see whether privacy and security issues in fact get much attention in the first half of the new Congress.