By Stuart Brotman
The impeachment inquiry of President Trump seems to be sucking the oxygen out of Capitol Hill, with prospects for comprehensive federal privacy legislation now looking dim before the 2020 election. Yet that does not mean that all attention to this important public policy concern need be deferred. The pause actually creates an opportunity for a timely alternative that could help the legislative process in the interim. A simple bill to create a National Commission on Consumer Privacy could explore this area with breadth and depth, while building necessary bipartisan consensus for any legislation that may develop down the road.
Commissions such as this must be established formally by Congress, and they have served our country well in providing independent advice and making recommendations for changes in public policy based on expert research, data analysis, and information gained through onsite visits. With consumer privacy top of mind among lawmakers, regulators, businesses, and consumer protection groups, such a commission would be invaluable as an efficient and effective means to explore the issues raised by the Business Roundtable executives, along with others to be added.
As the Congressional Research Service itself has noted, “Throughout American history, Congress has found commissions to be useful tools in the legislative process, and legislators continue to use them today.” More than 100 commissions have been established during the past 30 years, with recent positive examples such as the Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recovery Commission, the National Commission on Hunger, and the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
Having a commission before the sausage factory of actual legislation is opened up would provide a highly visible national forum for consumer privacy that marshals more expertise than may be readily available to existing staff in Congress, and enable greater depth than might be practical for lawmakers facing the realities of multitasking on steroids. Commissions historically have been nonpartisan or bipartisan.
This means that if organized with care, such a commission could make its findings and recommendations more likely to be accepted by the public and embodied in legislation that could be signed into law. Congress would have a sense of ownership from day one, since commission appointees would be selected in part or whole by lawmakers.