Wicker to oversee internet privacy, broadband, NASA and interstate trade as new Commerce chairman

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Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press

Vice President Mike Pence administers a ceremonial Senate oath during a mock swearing-in ceremony to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., accompanied by family members, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Passing a federal internet privacy policy will be a top priority for the Senate this year, according to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who was named Wednesday as the chair of the Senate commerce committee, which oversees all telecommunications.

Two hours before Wicker’s appointment, Mississippi’s senior senator told Mississippi Today that the United States needs a “uniform standard” on internet privacy. And in contrast to the dispute over increased funding for security along the southern border, which has forced a partial government shutdown, Wicker said the policy has bipartisan support.

“I think there is a general consensus among members of the House and Senate—Republican and Democrat—that we need one standard for the whole country and not a patchwork, from California to Nevada to Colorado.”

In the wake of revelations last spring that internet companies like Facebook had collected and sold user data to outside companies without users’ consent, California rushed to pass a broad new internet privacy law last summer. Other states, such as Massachusetts, are looking at similar legislation. But members of Congress—and the heads of these companies—have argued that regulating these laws across state lines would be difficult without one blanket policy for the entire country.

“And it would be up to the Congress and the president signing the bill what the level of privacy will be. But it’s going to be a huge issue,” Wicker told Mississippi Today.

According to Wicker, the commerce committee will have a “wide-ranging jurisdiction” over many areas of government—including broadband, air travel and railroads, interstate commerce, aerospace and NASA—that could benefit Mississippians. And Wicker said he plans to use his new chairmanship to direct resources and projects to the state.

“It’s good for Mississippi, but the main news is it’s good for the United States. So expanding rural broadband is good for the heartland of America, but it helps us in Mississippi,” Wicker said.

This is important for Mississippi, which lost one of its most influential advocates last spring when Sen. Thad Cochran retired after 46 years in Congress. As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Cochran steered billions of federal dollars to Mississippi, which relies more on federal funds than any other state, from last year’s $930 million ship-building contract to a $29 billion Katrina relief package.

While Mississippi’s Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott admitted that Wicker won’t have the same broad financial power that Cochran did, he said that Commerce’s broad jurisdiction makes it “one of the best committees in the Senate.”

“Now it’s not Chairman of Appropriations. It’s not Chairman of Finance. But it’s not chicken feed. It’s pretty good,” Lott told Mississippi Today on Tuesday.

Mississippi’s junior senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, said she’s optimistic that Wicker’s chairmanship would continue to benefit the state.

“He is obviously very in tune to the needs of our state, and I think he’ll be a great chairman. I think he’ll be very objective,” Hyde-Smith said. “He sees the national needs and also what the needs of our state are.”