Internet Privacy Legislation Dies in Florida


Consumer privacy legislation in Florida died Friday, the last day of this year’s legislative session, making the Sunshine State the latest to see data-protection proposals hit a political impasse.

The state Senate and House failed to reconcile competing bills that took different approaches to provisions such as whether individual residents could sue companies for misusing their personal information. The so-called private right of action has emerged as the key issue for many state lawmakers attempting to write new internet privacy rules in lieu of a federal standard.

While Florida House lawmakers had voted in favor of legislation with an expansive private right of action, which advocacy groups such as Consumer Reports support, state senators and business lobbyists have opposed the idea.

Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Republican who sponsored the Florida House bill, called the efforts in this year’s 60-day session “strong first steps toward common-sense changes.”

“I look forward to continuing the good work on this complicated issue in the next session [in 2022],” Ms. McFarland said in a statement.

The setback for Florida lawmakers came despite Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis calling for privacy protections to help shield consumers from big tech companies that collect and analyze reams of user data to power their businesses.

Since California enacted a comprehensive consumer privacy law in 2018, advocates have called for similar legislation at the federal level to expand data protections to all U.S. consumers. At the same time, businesses and lobbyists have warned that failure to pass a single standard in Washington could yield a state-by-state approach that could drive up companies’ compliance costs.

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As state lawmakers around the country have taken up data privacy, however, many have struggled to agree on how to define data protections, what types of companies regulations should cover and how to structure enforcement.

In March,

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

signed a data-protection bill that didn’t include a private right of action, instead centralizing enforcement powers in the attorney general’s office. Disagreements over enforcement stalled Washington state officials in their negotiations this month, the third time lawmakers there have tried and failed to pass such a law.

A similar debate played out in Florida.

The private right of action proposed by the state House was more expansive than California’s, giving consumers the right to sue companies for a broader set of violations, said Al Saikali, chair of the privacy and data security practice at law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP.

Mr. Saikali, who opposed the House proposal, said the Florida Senate’s version would have largely mimicked the other consumer rights offered by the California and Virginia laws.

“It’s disappointing,” he said, “because Florida lost an opportunity to be a real trendsetter in privacy.”

Write to David Uberti at david.uberti@wsj.com

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