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United States Privacy Digest | Notes from the IAPP Editorial Director, Jan. 8, 2021 Related reading: Notes from the IAPP, April 9, 2021

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Hello from Kittery, Maine. 

Wednesday's breach and occupation of the nation's Capitol building by a riotous mob during the certification of the Electoral College for the next president of the United States was a shocking and saddening spectacle that will go into the history books for generations to come. The rule of law and peaceful transfer of power are hallmarks of American democracy, but that was tarnished this week. However, the work of Congress continued Wednesday night. As the current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "The Senate will not be intimidated." 

Though Wednesday's attack is a stain on a long and hallowed tradition, Congress did certify Joe Biden as president-elect and Kamala Harris as vice president–elect. There will be a new presidential administration, and the transfer of power will take place Jan. 20. 

Through self-generated social media posts and government-positioned surveillance cameras, the chaos that unfolded Wednesday was recorded from many angles. It was shocking to see rioters sitting at the desks of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's. In one such post, Pelosi's emails were still open after lawmakers were forced to flee their offices into an undisclosed location. As some cybersecurity experts have said, Wednesday's physical breach was also a national security and digital breach, and legislators must assume that all devices in their offices were compromised. One lawmaker's laptop was apparently stolen, and private papers and items in congressional offices were open to those who infiltrated the building. 

The FBI is asking for help identifying the rioters, and some have already been tracked down and arrested. It will be interesting to learn whether facial recognition will be used to identify individuals and what security precautions will be put in place in the future. I fear that it will now become a more difficult place to visit in the wake of this attack. I've been fortunate enough to visit the Capitol building — an awe-inspiring place — and I hope we can once again visit "the People's House."  

Overshadowed by Wednesday's ill-fated insurrection was the fact that Democrats won both Senate seats in the runoff elections in Georgia. This means Democrats will gain a slim majority in the Senate. With the executive and legislative branches in hand, the forthcoming Biden administration will have more leeway in selecting cabinet members, among other initiatives. We saw proof of this when President-elect Biden nominated Merrick Garland — the same man who was nominated for but denied a seat on the Supreme Court during the last year of President Barack Obama's presidency — as the next attorney general. 

The slim majority also means that both parties will have to work together, to compromise, in order to move legislation forward. At a time when deep divisions undergird U.S. politics, the system put in place by the founders of this country will likely bring power back to the moderates and centrists. 

The Georgia runoff election results also have implications for privacy and data protection. As Axios reported earlier this week, the results mean the Biden administration will be able to fill key seats in agencies that regulate technology. Big Tech — particularly, social media — will be under the spotlight. The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission will be lead by democrats. FTC Commissioners Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, for example, have not been shy about harsher penalties on Big Tech for anticompetitive and privacy violations. 

The other big implication is the future of federal privacy legislation. Even in a divided Congress, both parties have been getting closer to a bill in the last year or so. Will this new Congress get past the two major obstacles of a federal law — that being preemption of state laws and class-action lawsuits? We'll certainly be watching closely in the coming months. 

Last year was tough for just about all of us. The pandemic is raging here and around the world, and political divisions are felt far and wide. Finally, 2020 is behind us. True, 2021 is off to a rocky start, but hopefully, this week's events will help bring us together. 

Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy 2021. 

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