In the midst of the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, a Massachusetts Democrat and a Texas Republican issued a joint release declaring their desire to protect consumers from online data privacy violations. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Edward Markey, D-Mass., are co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, and on Wednesday they acknowledged responses to their inquires made to Facebook regarding online privacy breaches.
Barton said, “I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can’t unless the people’s right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done. In the next Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee and our subcommittees are going to put Internet privacy policies in the crosshairs.”
Markey took a slightly different tack, noting: “With privacy legislation under consideration by the Energy and Commerce Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that Facebook personal user data isn’t siphoned off and sold to a data broker who cannot be unfriended.”
Markey’s remarks point to an interest in taking up legislation in the lame duck session. Communications subcommittee head Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who lost his seat in Tuesday’s election, had drafted privacy legislation in May. However, Barton’s statement suggests it’s unlikely that there will be action on this issue until the 112th Congress is seated.
Net neutrality is another tech issue that is expected to stall in the lame duck session — but unlike Web privacy, it may stall permanently. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who is considered a leading candidate to be chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Politico before the elections that net neutrality was basically off the table until January. Rep. Joe Barton told Bloomberg on Wednesday that the onus will be on the federal regulators to “explain why it thinks the Internet needs federal government regulation for the first time.”
With a 3-2 Democratic majority, the FCC is expected to try continue its efforts to take the lead on network neutrality regulations, possibly by reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, with the same “common carrier” regulations that apply to traffic over ordinary telephone lines. But signs suggest that that net neutrality doesn’t have much of a future as a legislative issue: the three top candidates to head the Energy and Commerce Committee are on record as having doubts about giving the FCC more authority over broadband.
Nor does the issue have any meaningful public backing, if CNN’s whip count is anything to go by. According to reporter David Goldman, 95 candidates for seats in the House and the Senate pledged to back net neutrality legislation — and they all lost.