Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said she will keep fighting to pass the bill, which has been opposed by privacy groups and GOP leadership
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said she will keep fighting to pass the bill, which has been opposed by privacy groups and GOP leadership. Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-2.0)

As backlash mounts, data privacy bill markup is canceled moments before it was to start

The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled a hearing to mark up a controversial federal data privacy bill moments before it was to start on Thursday morning.

The American Privacy Rights Act (APRA) has been slammed by civil rights and privacy advocates in recent days and reportedly also faces strong opposition from Republican leadership.

In a statement released four minutes before the hearing’s planned 10 a.m. start, Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) indicated she will keep fighting to pass the bill, saying that “for every parent, for individual liberty, and for the future of this country, we will continue our pursuit to give Americans privacy rights online.”

“At its core, the massive commercial surveillance of data is fueling the problem,” the statement said. “Nearly every data point imaginable is being collected on us with no accountability."

“They are using our data against us, sowing division, manipulating truth, and diminishing our personal identities,” she added.

Consumers, privacy advocates and industry groups have long sought federal data privacy legislation, with business coalitions saying that a patchwork of state laws with varying privacy protections creates confusion for industry and privacy advocates asserting that state laws are often too weak to give individuals real privacy rights.

Twenty states have so far enacted comprehensive data privacy legislation and additional states are passing laws at a rapid clip — Rhode Island on Tuesday became the latest state to enact such legislation and seven additional states have data privacy laws moving through legislative committees.

On Monday, a prominent civil rights group, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, lambasted the updated draft bill’s deletion of a 13-page section protecting against data discrimination and algorithmic bias.

“The new draft strips out anti-discrimination protections, AI impact assessment requirements, and the ability to opt-out of AI decision-making for major economic opportunities like housing and credit,” the organization said, noting it is now recommending supporters vote against APRA.

On Tuesday, 55 national organizations advocating for civil rights and privacy released a statement calling on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to postpone Thursday’s markup and revive the bill’s language around civil rights protections and algorithmic bias safeguards. The groups vowed to oppose the legislation if the provisions are not restored.

It is unclear if the markup will be rescheduled, but observers believe the bill is in trouble given the strong opposition from both GOP leadership and the broad coalition of civil rights and privacy groups.

The bill also has been fought by states whose privacy laws would be overridden by the federal legislation. Last month, 15 state attorneys general appealed to congressional leaders to remove language from the bill that would preempt state privacy laws.

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Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.