Rep. Terry: Data is the New Gold

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Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE)

Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE-01) today called data “the new gold,” comparing its collection to panning for flakes in the river: “Add it all up and it’s something really valuable.”

At an event hosted by the Data Driven Marketing Institute at the National Press Club this morning in Washington, DC, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade (CMT) touched on some of his top concerns regarding data privacy, data security, and cross-Atlantic trade, all of them of direct impact to the interests of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession.

Top of mind was our relationship with Europe and privacy regulation impediments to digital trade. Terry’s CMT Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the regulatory barriers to trade and that has spurred his interest. The CMT will soon be making recommendations on privacy issues to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) as it negotiates a massive trade deal with the European Union (EU).

Rep. Terry noted that while the EU is “standing pat” with its “overzealous privacy policies,” the U.S. needs to be “vigilant” in including privacy regulation as a barrier to trade between the U.S. and the EU. The U.S. has “flexibility” in its privacy regime, which has allowed for the “emergence of the data economy,” and we do not want to adopt “the EU’s position in any trade agreement.” According to Rep. Terry, “there is a reason why we are the dominant innovators in this area and Europe is not.”

The Congressman lamented that there was one big impediment to a sensible privacy discussion between the U.S. and the EU, and “it has three letters: NSA.” The summer’s privacy scandals have continued, and EU officials are using this “unrelated issue” to “justify their stricter standards on privacy.”

Rep. Terry stressed that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the key reason “why our system works” and how the U.S. avoids laying a “total iron blanket” of privacy regulation that could smother data businesses like the research profession. Thus, he feels that the FTC has the most important role to play in explaining how the U.S. privacy system works and helping to make sure that the USTR doesn’t just tell the Europeans that “we’ll adopt your system” during these trade negotiations. He wants to get a vow from the USTR that they will hold firm in support of the U.S. approach, worrying that, “going to a European data security and privacy position is deadly.” Rep. Terry even echoed the position MRA discussed with his office earlier this summer that we need to turn the discussion of “harmonization” of privacy regimes away from U.S. adoption of EU restrictions and more toward the EU adoption of the U.S. approach.

Turning back to domestic concerns, Rep. Terry discussed the Privacy Working Group he launched, co-chaired by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT). The Working Group aims to identify the data privacy problems that will require legislation and then find consensus before legislating any solution. He contrasted this approach with the more traditional model of drafting a big comprehensive bill (such as the bill the White House is currently drafting) and then having stakeholders buy in afterwards. Rep. Terry stressed that privacy issues are “hard” and that many Congressmen on CMT still need to “get up to speed on privacy.”

Finally, on data security, Rep. Terry stressed that he has “built a wall” between data security issues and privacy issues. He said that he doesn’t mind firms having his personally identifiable information, but he expects data security and that they “do everything in their power to protect it.” Rep. Terry further elaborated that, “data security is what people expect when they know they are sharing their data with someone else.”

Rep. Terry’s predecessor as Chairman of the CMT, Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), pushed her own data security legislation (the SAFE Data Act) which caused a lot of legislative battles (including a pair of amendments supported by MRA) before narrowly passing in CMT and never being considered by the full Energy & Commerce Committee. Rep. Terry has taken a significantly slower approach. He said he will have some more hearings on the subject before drafting legislation. It will likely focus on consumer notification, and the only precept he will insist upon in the language is a firm preemption of state laws, because all the witnesses at his last hearing begged him not to inflict yet another conflicting standard for them to have to follow.