WR board meets with legislators about privacy, data breach bills

Mar 14, 2019
Written by Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs

The debate about privacy – protecting sensitive consumer data if stolen in a data breach – belongs at the federal level, not at our state capital where it currently is under discussion.

Having a multitude of differing state laws and regulations is not only confusing and expensive for the businesses that must comply but potentially damaging to the very consumers that the laws intend to protect.

Retailers collect and protect information so that they can better serve customers. They take their customers’ privacy very seriously and work tirelessly to protect it to ensure an enjoyable shopping experience.

Washington State, along with several other states, feels the need to regulate multi-state and even multi-national companies that do business within their borders. This is the wrong approach.

Currently, in Washington, D.C., the discussion of a federal solution on privacy has begun in earnest. Much like the European Union’s adoption of the “General Data Protection Rules” or GDPR, the U.S. is undertaking this monumental task.

There are four bills currently being considered before the Washington Legislature. On privacy, they are Senate Bill 5376, prime sponsored by Senator Reuven Carlyle and House Bill 1854, prime sponsored by Representative Shelley Kloba. Data breach notification, at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, has Senate Bill 5064, prime sponsored by Senator Joe Nguyen and House Bill 1071, prime sponsored by Representative Kloba.

Washington Retail does not support any of the bills as currently written.

With that said, we are working diligently with the prime sponsors, the Attorney General, the chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction, and all stakeholders on improving the bills so that they are less damaging to consumers and the businesses that must comply with their onerous requirements. Of particular concern is a private right of action contained in privacy bill HB 1854 and under current law under data breach.

WR has advocated for a safe harbor or legal defense in the event of a lawsuit, to no avail. It is wrong that a retailer can do everything required by laws and regulations and still be sued if the company is the victim of a breach.

As it appears one or more of the Washington State bills will pass and become law, it is worth repeating that a federal, nationwide solution would be vastly preferable. Being an outlier will only make Washington State less competitive and less business-friendly.