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Senate moves toward new data security rules

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In a flurry of activity before Congress prepares to skip town for an August recess, three different congressional committees considered similar legislation at the same time on Thursday morning.

The Senate's Commerce Committee voted unanimously to accept a bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. It would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to create an information security program that provides "administrative, technical and physical safeguards," and set guidelines for notifying people threatened by a data security breach.

The committee adopted a package of about a dozen amendments, including a compromise suggested by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would cut, from 90 days to 45 days, the maximum number of days a company has to notify individuals of a breach. But even those guidelines are just broad suggestions, Smith said. "As soon as they know, they need to notify."

Senators also voted to accept an amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.--which would prohibit the sale and display of Social Security numbers except in special circumstances--but indicated it might be tweaked before it is final. Also, the bill will not go to a floor vote until some of its provisions are negotiated with members of the Senate Banking Committee, said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who chairs the Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed back its plans Thursday to vote on a trio of personal data security bills.

The committee had been scheduled to vote on the lengthiest and most far-reaching proposal, titled the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the measure in late June, shortly after MasterCard announced that an intruder may have pilfered information from 40 million credit card accounts.

At the same time on Thursday, a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee convened a hearing about its own draft of data protection legislation.

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