Senate panel approves data security bills

Plans would tighten data security procedures and beef up notification of breaches.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday sent two bills to the floor that would tighten data security procedures and beef up notification of breaches.

A measure sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which passed 14-5, requires data brokers and other companies to establish and implement data privacy and security programs. It also increases criminal penalties for identity theft involving electronic data and criminalizes intentional concealment of a security breach. Failure to disclose a breach could result in hefty fines.

A narrower bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which passed 14-2, supersedes a patchwork of state laws and would require notification of individuals whose sensitive personal information is breached. In addition, the Secret Service can intervene in certain instances. Her bill also provides infringing parties with a safe harbor if authorities determine there is no significant risk of harm.

Leahy's measure sparked considerable debate, with Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and other Republicans arguing it is too broad. An amendment offered by Sessions, which would define breaches as exposures posing a significant risk of ID theft, was defeated 13-6. He withdrew another amendment that would have reworked the types of data that trigger a consumer alert.

An amendment from Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that would have exempted information pertaining to law enforcement or national security matters was defeated 12-7. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., withdrew an amendment that would have deleted a section of the bill relating to ID theft and bankruptcy proceedings after Leahy promised to work with him on the language before the bill reached the floor.

Kyl and others claimed Feinstein's more limited bill was a better approach because Leahy's version could desensitize consumers with a barrage of breach notices. But Feinstein came to Leahy's defense, arguing "the language in terms of identifiers has been carefully worked out."

"It's hard to write the language to do what we'd like to do. It's not easy to get it right," Sessions said.