Last week, the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress dismantled Internet privacy protections put in place last fall by the Federal Communications Commission.
This week, the Washington Legislature aims to offer that privacy protection for Washingtonians.
A state-by-state approach is far from ideal as the internet is not contained by state borders. Still, offering some protection for state residents is better than allowing their privacy to be used as a profit source for Internet providers.
Lawmakers in Olympia on Tuesday introduced a pair of proposals to require internet service providers to get permission from users before selling personal information such as geographic location, Internet history and app usage to marketers.
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“Your internet access provider shouldn’t be able to sell your private information like your browsing history to the highest bidder,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, sponsor of House Bill 2200. “If Congress isn’t willing to stop that from happening, then we in Washington state are absolutely going to act to protect our privacy.”
Hansen’s proposal, patterned after the now-defunct FCC rules, would be incorporated into the state’s Consumer Protection Act that’s enforced by the Attorney General’s Office.
The legislation has bipartisan support — with at least a dozen Republicans — in the Democrat-controlled House.
Meanwhile, a similar proposal has been pitched in the Republican-controlled Senate. It has 32 sponsors in the 49-member Senate.
The early support bodes well for approval. And early indications are Washingtonians want protections.
Internet providers in the state seem to grasp that and have issued statements seeking to calm customers.
“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history,” said Gerard Lewis, the chief general counsel and privacy officer of Comcast, in a statement on the company’s website. “We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”
Nevertheless, knowing that there are rules against selling the information would be more comforting. Privacy concerns involving the internet are real.
Freedom to use the Internet without fear of tracking by service providers should be fundamental. If Congress would rather this personal information be sold to the highest bidder, state action is warranted.
Washington state’s lawmakers are on the right track.