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Good afternoon from Portsmouth, New Hampshire!

We are nearly through the first month of 2021, and despite still living the quarantine life, time continues to move at a surprisingly rapid clip. I’m certainly not complaining. The first two months of the year are easily my least favorite. The holiday season is over, and all that’s left is boring old winter. I do not partake in any winter sports, nor am I the biggest fan of the cold. It’s currently 10 degrees out as I write this. Let’s get to spring, please.

Plus, each month is one step closer to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. I’m not one to wish time away, but we can hit fast forward just a little bit here.

While winter may be a slow time for those who don’t hit the slopes, there has been no shortage of privacy activity during the first month of the new year.

President Joe Biden was inaugurated less than two weeks ago, but that hasn’t stopped him from making some key appointments. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have new acting chairs, and Christopher Hoff has been tapped to oversee Privacy Shield negotiations with the European Commission.

The Biden administration no doubt has its work cut out for them no doubt. Its main mission is to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. But these moves, particularly the appointment of Hoff, show privacy will be a priority under the new administration. As IAPP Research Director Caitlin Fennessy writes, “By filling this position on day one, the Biden administration has signaled its intention to focus on privacy policy in the international realm and the critical importance of global data flows.”

The 117th Congress was also sworn in and with a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill, the prospects of a federal privacy law remain high. However, even the most optimistic prognosticators believe we are still a few years away from meaningful legislation coming to fruition. 

In the interim, states have taken the lead to produce their own bills. In January alone, we saw New York, Minnesota and Oklahoma mull privacy legislation, among others. Two states have gone even further than that, as Washington state and Virginia each held hearings on their proposed privacy laws (covered by my colleagues Jennifer Bryant and Joe Duball, respectively).

State lawmakers are hopeful as the elusive Washington Privacy Act and the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act have been sent to their Senate's Ways & Means and Finance Committees, respectively, for further consideration.

That doesn’t mean anyone should treat these bills as done deals, especially in their current forms. The Washington Privacy Act is on its third iteration, and there are still plenty of concerns raised by those opposing the two bills. It’s just as likely both bills pass as it does both die on the vine. For more on the state of the WaPA and all things U.S. state privacy law in 2021, be sure to check out the IAPP's latest podcast interview with Husch Blackwell's David Stauss. 

What is certain is that no one is taking their ball and going home if they lose, as Washington lawmakers have proven already. It’s only a matter of when, not if, these states are covered by a privacy law, whether through federal legislation or their own.

Until next time.

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