The Electronic Transactions Association is lobbying Congress to enact a uniform national data breach reporting standard that would replace a welter of contradictory state and local rules.

The Washington-based trade group is seeking legislation that would codify breach reports to consumers but would not address notification of state and local agencies, says Scott Talbott, the ETA's new senior vice president of government affairs.

"Right now, there are 46 different state laws that govern what has to happen—who has to be notified and when," Talbott says. "Those laws can be in conflict with each other."

The Senate is considering three proposals for a national standard, and two are circulating in the House, he notes.

"They focus mostly on the consumer angle so if a particular state or a local government agency wanted notification, these bills would not address those issues," Talbott says.

The legislation faces what he considers "an uphill battle."

"The good news is there are multiple committees examining this legislation, but that also creates a procedural challenge" as Congress tries to reconcile the differing bills before passing one into law, Talbott says.

While supporting that legislation, the ETA is also playing "defense" to prevent Congressional mandates of any particular payments technology, such as EMV, tokenization or encryption, he says.

"We think that the industry or the marketplace is best-positioned to determine which types—plural—of technology are best-utilized in this space," Talbott says. "We would have a wary eye toward legislation that imposed technological requirements on the industry."      

Guarding against tech mandates and pushing for a breach reporting standard both represent part of the ETA's drive to increase its influence on Capitol Hill.

To that end, the association announced in October at its Strategic Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., that it had formed a PAC, or public action committee.

That organization, called ETA PAC, has raised $10,000 to $20,000 in pledges, mostly for campaign contributions to politicians who support the association's causes. Talbott hopes the PAC will raise an additional $75,000 before the end of the year.

"Our goal is to support those candidates for office or those members of Congress who understand the issues facing the payments industry," he says.

The paperwork to launch an initiative to bolster the ETA was on Talbott's desk when he spoke last week with PaymentsSource. Details will be forthcoming, he says.

"The goal is to strengthen that tool and the ETA as we go about our policy advocacy," he says.

PAC activities are focused on Washington, but some PAC funds could finance efforts at the state level in the future.  California state lawmakers, for example, are considering legislation that would make the card brands' EMV timetable a state law, he says. The card brands have set October 2015 as the deadline for most merchants to accept EMV-chip cards, and those who miss that deadline face a shift in fraud liability.

ETA is also following the progress of tax issues in some states, Talbott says.

Meanwhile, the organization is calling upon members to become involved in the legislative process, and it has created a "grassroots" website called "The Voice of Payments" to help them get started.

Members who sign up online receive notification when Congress is considering legislation that would affect the payments industry. The site provides the names of bills and suggests points to raise when communicating with senators or representatives by mail, email, phone, at home district meetings or during Washington visits.

The ETA held a meeting in Washington last fall to gather members from throughout the country. They met as a group for breakfast with a member of Congress, followed by individual or small-group afternoon visits to senators' and representatives' offices. The whole group reconvened later for a wrap-up session.

The association is planning two similar events this year, one in early summer and another in the fall, Talbott says.

"A good number for a fly-in is about 20," he says. "Twenty executives is a good showing, and it's manageable in terms of teams. It is critical mass to send a signal to members of Congress that the issue warrants their attention."

Such meetings supplement the day-to-day work of ETA lobbyists, who visit Congressional offices to discuss issues with members of Congress or their staffers, Talbott says.

The morning he spoke with PaymentsSource, for example, he was preparing for four such visits that afternoon.

Talbott began working for ETA last month after nearly 20 years with the Financial Services Roundtable. He was attracted to the ETA because of its overlapping membership with the roundtable and the advanced technology of many ETA members.

"So, the landscape's always going to change," he says of the influence of technologically advanced ETA members.

Jaime Graham, who joined the staff in September as senior government affairs manager, works with Talbott on lobbying, the ETA PAC and the association's grassroots efforts.

Mary Bennett, who has served as ETA's director of government and industry relations, plans to remain active in the association as a consultant, Talbott says.

To "amplify" its message, the ETA works with other trade associations on legislation that's mutually beneficial, he says. At the same time the ETA also urges it rank-and-file members to become involved in the legislative process.

"Politics is not a spectator sport," Talbott says.

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