States to US Congress: If You Won’t Protect Internet Privacy, We Will

States step in to preserve Internet Privacy

By Wayne Porter

The States Strike Back

In response to the US Congress repealing the FCC’s Internet privacy guidelines that were passed last year, several state governments have decided to take matters into their own hands by enacting Internet privacy rules of their own.

While the ISPs were celebrating their victory in the US Congress due to the repeal of the privacy rules put in place by the Obama era FCC, a new front was opened up on the state level, where legislatures are often more responsive to citizen’s requests. Several state governments are working to safeguard consumer’s right to privacy in spite of the fact that Congress worked to undermine it.

The state legislatures passing or proposing their owns laws regarding Internet privacy so far are:

Minnesota

Despite having Republican majorities in both the State House or Representatives and the Senate, Minnesota was the first state in the country to challenge the loosening of Internet user privacy rights.

Both chambers in Minnesota’s Legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation last week requiring that Internet service providers ask for permission before selling the personal data of customers.

It was attached as an amendment to the budget and was submitted by Senator Ron Latz, a member of the Democratic Farmer Labor party, (what the Democratic Party is called in Minnesota). It survived challenges and was attached to the Senate’s economic development budget bill. The privacy amendment passed 66 to 1 and the final budget bill passed in the State Senate 58 to 9. A similar bill was passed in the Minnesota House.

The amendment says that ISPs may not "collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or Internet service provider without express written approval from the customer."

It still needs to be signed by the Governor who is also a member of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.

Washington

Currently the state of Washington has no state laws governing the privacy practices of Internet service providers. That could change with House Bill 2200 and Senate Bill 5919.

Rep. Drew Hansen, D, Bainbridge Island, is the prime sponsor of the House bill.

“Your Internet access provider shouldn’t be able to sell your private information like your browsing history to the highest bidder,” said Representative Hansen, “If Congress isn’t willing to stop that from happening, then we in Washington state are absolutely going to act to protect our privacy.”

His legislation is patterned after the Obama administration FCC rules and would be incorporated into the state’s Consumer Protection Act, which the state Attorney General’s office enforces.

The House Bill has more than a dozen Republican co sponsors. The Senate Bill has 32 co sponsors (out of 49 total members).

The attorney general’s office can prosecute companies for “unfair and deceptive actions” and Internet service providers may have contracts with cities that contain additional privacy requirements.

Illinois

Illinois lawmakers are looking into several online privacy measures. One of them in particular is different than the FCC rules just repealed in that it would let consumers find out what websites such as Google and Facebook as well as ISPs like Comcast and Charter are collecting on them and which third parties they are sharing the data with. Another measure, the Microphone-Enabled Device Act (HB 3819), would require apps or devices to get permission from consumers before enabling microphones on their Internet connected devices.

"People are looking to us now to provide protections for consumers," state Rep. Arthur Turner, a Chicago Democrat who proposed the "right to know" bill, said during a hearing regarding the measure.

Trade groups and other corporate mouth pieces have spoken out against the measures and State Senator Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat who sponsored a corresponding Senate measure said corporate lobbyists have visited his office to discuss the bill. But Hastings was not swayed, "It may be good for the Apples, the Amazons of the world, but it's not good for people."

"This is your personal information," Hastings said. "You should know who is storing your records and who has access to it."

The House Committee has received more than a thousand responses in support of the proposal and only 32 in opposition to it.

Montana

On Monday, the Montana Senate approved a budget provision that would bar Internet service providers from being awarded state contracts if they collect data from their customers without consent.

Montana Sen. Ryan Osmundson, R-Buffalo, said he introduced the measure in response to Congress' repeal of the Federal Communications Commission privacy rules.

"It has become apparent to us that they have the ability to use your information in ways to market to you, and, quite frankly, sell that information," Osmundson said of Internet service providers. "We're basically saying they cannot do business with the state if they're collecting personal information without the consent of the individual."

Other States

The Maryland House of Delegates narrowly missed the opportunity to take up legislation to extend privacy protections in the state. Their legislative session ends Monday and their vote on the matter fell barely short of the amount needed to consider it up before the session ends.

Last month the Nevada Assembly took up a geolocation privacy bill, Assembly Bill 313 to prohibit collecting and using geolocation information from electronic devices.

Also last month the New Jersey Assembly introduced Assembly Bill 4677 which aims to prevent connected televisions from listening to consumers without consent and prohibits the selling of the data the TVs collect.

Some states, like California, already have some sort of Internet Privacy laws on theirs books and it is probable that more will propose additional privacy guidelines in the near future.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said that laws like the ones being considered are necessary in this new age of privacy concerns.

Painted Into a Corner?

"Internet service providers have put themselves in a bit of a conundrum here," Dallas Harris of the open Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge said. "They've bucked the federal rule, and they're going to get what they hate the most — a bunch of state laws." Not surprisingly, corporate groups, chambers of commerce and the ISPs themselves like Comcast, Charter, Verizon and AT&T are opposed to any new privacy regulations saying they would hinder innovation. Apparently ISPs need to collect and sell information about you to make the Internet better.