Lawmakers race to pass federal online privacy bill

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California's new Consumer Privacy Act takes effect Jan. 1

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers are racing against the clock to pass a federal online privacy bill that would prevent a patchwork of state laws, like one recently passed in California.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell is one of those working to draft a national bill.

“Deeply— sometimes personal — information is shared and that information can be used to be targeted or to exclude consumers,” Cantwell said.

Republican lawmakers and companies like Walmart that do business onilne also want a federal law to avoid a patchwork of individual state laws that, they say, could complicate online shopping.

Walmart shopper Nuala O’Conner questioned how individual state laws would apply to online shopping for things like gifts.

“She lives in New Jersey; I purchased it on Walmart.com using my cell phone with a 516 New Jersey area code; I live in Maryland — which state law applies to that transaction?” O’Conner asked.

California’s new Consumer Privacy Act takes effect Jan. 1 but it could take years for other states to pass their own laws, leaving many consumers unprotected.

But Democrats and Republicans have competing federal bills.

Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker said both proposals are an improvement and “are much stronger than the California law.”

But the differences in the proposals could make or break the outcome, including whether to allow states to update laws as needed; how strong civil rights protections will be to prevent discrimination; and whether people will have the right to sue for online violations of privacy.

“Consumers are entitled to clear and concise explanations of how the services they use are collecting and using their data,” said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.

Thune emphasized that only a bipartisan solution has a chance of becoming law.

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