California May Take Protecting Citizens’ Privacy Into Its Own Hands

There is a bill headed for a final vote in the California state legislature this Friday, and it could be a huge win for consumer privacy. Californians may soon retake control of the data collected on them by broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. While this bill will only affect consumers in California, it may just be the beginning of consumers waking up and empowering themselves again.

California’s Broadband Privacy Bill

The story of this bill is fraught with attempts to crush it by large telecommunications companies. In fact, this bill almost never saw a vote because of the efforts of lobbyists from those companies. It took constituents making their voices heard to get a vote on this bill. Because of the efforts of these concerned citizens, the state legislature moved forward with the bill and it will be voted on this Friday.

While overwhelming public support for the bill may have gotten it to the floor for a vote, it just barely made it. This is yet another demonstration of how our republic can be far too easily influenced by corporate actors against the interest of citizens. Using their money and legal trickery, lobbyists for the ISP and telecommunications industry attempted to smother this bill in its crib. If it were to have died in committee, then it would never have been voted on. This would have been their best bet, considering how supportive of privacy protection the vast majority of citizens are.

Luckily, the Rules Committee moved the bill forward and we will soon see a vote. The final version of this bill, which is predicted to pass, is extremely similar to the regulations regarding privacy that the FCC just repealed. This means that Californians would have to give their ISPs permission to use data collected about them. This particular law will go even further by banning pay-for-privacy schemes, the likes of which ISPs have attempted in the past. It appears that it is up to states to protect our privacy interests if the federal government will not. 

Why This is so Important

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. FCC has made it abundantly clear that it sides with corporate interests over the rights of citizens. Federal consumer protections are either non-existent or quickly being dismantled under the leadership of Ajit Pai. No citizen benefits from having his or her rights taken away. That only helps the large telecommunications companies further exploit one’s personal data and privacy for financial gain. For these reasons, it is critical that citizens make their voices heard by not only the federal government but also local governments. If the federal government is unwilling to preserve the rights of its citizens, state governments have to pick up the slack.

Hopefully, what California is doing will create a sort of ripple effect and other states will soon follow suit. Your data and privacy should be yours alone. Remember, many of these companies already charge you for the privilege of using their infrastructure. You are buying a product and service from them; they should not make you their product.

As this and other stories concerning data, privacy, and net neutrality develop, we will continue to keep our readers informed.