digital privacy

2019 has been and will continue to be, all about privacy. You might think – well that’s obvious, but I’m not sure that it is. Sure, it’s obvious since Facebook has gone and made a ton of mistakes over the last year, but it hasn’t been obvious. Which is why there is a problem now, and that’s why more and more legislation is being passed, like a new bill in Maine. This week, the House voted 96-45 in support of the bill which would create the toughest state Internet privacy laws in the United States. The law would prohibit carriers like AT&T and Spectrum from selling customers’ personal data without their permission.

The House did amend the bill in order to delay its effective date until July of 2020, which would give ISP’s time to prepare for the new rules. The bill still needs to be accepted by the Senate and will then need to go back to the House and Senate to be enacted, and then it needs the blessing of the Governor, Janet Mills. Confusing, right?

How would this bill work? The legislation would require ISP’s to obtain express consent from customers in order to sell their personal data. Essentially an “opt-in” clause. This is the key piece that would set Maine’s laws apart from other state Internet privacy laws. This bill would closely mirror a former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that was nullified by President Trump in 2017 via executive order, thus opening the door for Internet service providers to start selling their customers’ personal data to third parties.

This law would prohibit any ISP from making the sale of customer data part of its mandatory terms of service. The bill also stipulates that the ISP cannot charger a higher fee to a customer who refuses to opt in or penalize them in any way. You can see where this is going, right? Customers who chose to opt-in won’t get penalized, but the cost of the internet in the state of Maine is going to increase in order to minimize the impact to the ISP.

Those who support this bill are saying that large telecommunications providers in the state are boosting their profits by selling their customers’ sensitive personal information, which includes real-time location data. This bill outlines the idea that personal information that is found online should be regarded as the private property of Internet users. Interestingly, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, saying that the policy is bad because this isn’t consistent with the Federal rules, or what is being done in other states.

They’re not wrong. The question becomes, how can a state protect its citizens otherwise? As I mentioned earlier, it’s 2019 and we are all worried about the privacy of our own personal data. Anyone that opposes these kinds of bills doesn’t care about other people’s personal data. ISP’s know exactly what you’re doing online and when. The fact that Maine is saying they don’t want ISP’s using that to sell to companies who will target you for various products, isn’t a bad thing. It’s giving citizens the freedom of choice. Choice is something that many American’s no longer have, so I am looking forward to seeing what will happen in the Senate with this bill.

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