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Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy backed the idea of national legislation to safeguard consumers’ data privacy, adding a prominent GOP voice to the bipartisan support in Congress for tackling how technology companies amass and use their information.

Lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate have been working on bills aimed at strengthening individuals’ ability to control their data collected by the biggest technology companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc.

It isn’t yet clear which, if any, legislation could secure enough support to become law. But the comments from Mr. McCarthy and others indicated that there was significant bipartisan support for establishing stronger privacy guidelines.

“There needs to be a national-level regulation, not state-by-state on what we’re going to do about privacy,” Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, said in an interview Thursday with The Wall Street Journal. “We should know what data you keep on us. We should be able to take our data and be able to delete our data.”

Mr. McCarthy said he plans to introduce legislation that would ensure that people know what data companies are tracking and allow them to transfer or delete that data.

A data-privacy law passed last year in California helped spur action from both Mr. McCarthy and a bipartisan group of lawmakers working on privacy legislation in the Senate. Many view the law, set to take effect in January 2020, as the strictest consumer-privacy law in the U.S.

The California law broadens the definition of what constitutes personal information and gives the state’s consumers the right to prohibit the sale of personal data to third parties and opt out of sharing it altogether.

“If California goes into effect and then every other state’s doing one, we’re going to disrupt whatever growth we can have within technology and innovation,” Mr. McCarthy said.

The California law is somewhat similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect last year. One difference is that the California measure includes more provisions allowing consumers to opt out of data sharing as opposed to forcing them to opt in before continuing to use online sites.

Passage of the California law helped spur the formation in the U.S. Senate of a working group last year that is drafting what its members hope will be landmark data-privacy legislation.

Composed of members of the Commerce Committee, the group includes the panel’s chairman, Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) Sens. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii). The group this year added two more high-profile lawmakers: Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, now the GOP whip, and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat.

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