Consumer privacy a top priority with Congress and in Washington State

Aug 8, 2019
Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO
There are increasing efforts by states including Washington to address consumer data privacy. Though the Legislature took no final action on privacy bills during the 2019 session, Washington Retail expects more debate and possible action on the issue in 2020.
To prepare further our government affairs team attended a roundtable this week hosted by PacTech at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce offices. Washington Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was joined by Senator Reuven Carlyle and Representative Zack Hudgins. In the 2019 Legislative session, Carlyle and Hudgins were sponsors of SB 5376 and HB 1854, respectively, that are related to this issue.
DelBene expressed her concern that the U.S. is behind on this issue, acknowledging technology impacts everyone yet federal policies have not been updated since 1986.
There were differing thoughts among lawmakers on whether the legislation should be established first at the federal level rather than a state-by-state approach.
The association has supported the National Retail Federation’s position that a federal approach rather than a patchwork effort by states is the preferred method to address the handling of consumer information. We have continued to urge lawmakers to adopt a “uniform, nationwide, consumer-centric” privacy law.
Lawmakers attending the roundtable expressed concern that Congress will be able to effectively address the complex privacy issues facing our nation and impacting our state. Senator Carlyle acknowledged that Washington State is a place of innovation; that enforcement matters, rules must be clear and people are looking for simplicity to better understand their rights. An ability to have a consumer “opt-in” was one of the ideas brought forward.
A new California privacy law that takes effect next year has emerged as a model for other states, including Washington, to follow. It poses several concerning outcomes including:
  • Restricting popular retail loyalty programs that offer discounts in return for consumer data.
  • Allowing consumers to “erase” information that could impact convenience services such as returning items to a store without a receipt.
  • Burdensome fines per customer for data breaches that could pose serious financial problems for some companies.
Today, virtually all consumers are willing to trade some personal data for valuable and convenient benefits. The data consumers willingly supply that includes buying preferences assists retailers in offering products, services and convenience that would be more difficult otherwise.
The important topic of consumer data privacy will continue to be on the forefront in Washington State throughout the coming year. Our desire is to support the flexibility and flow of information while allowing for innovation and growth in the digital economy. We look forward to fruitful dialogue and the opportunity to work with our legislators to balance these important priorities.