California Internet privacy bill trimmed, but not gutted

27 August 2017 by Steve Blum
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Whose choice is it?

A bill establishing strong Internet privacy rules in California has been watered down a bit, but still has teeth . Assembly bill 375, carried by Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park), would reinstate restrictions on use of customer information by Internet service providers that were scrapped at the federal level.

Originally, it required opt-in consent – an affirmative grant of permission in advance – from subscribers for any disclosure of personal information to third parties. That’s been scaled back. As it reads now, AB 375 would allow an ISP to freely share “nonsensitive customer proprietary information” until and unless a subscriber opts out – takes the initiative to say no. Disclosure of “sensitive customer proprietary information”, on the other hand, would still require opt-in permission.

What’s the difference? Non-sensitive information is anything that’s not sensitive, which is defined in the bill

“Sensitive customer proprietary information” includes all of the following:

  1. Financial information.
  2. Health information.
  3. Information pertaining to children.
  4. Social security numbers.
  5. Precise geolocation information.
  6. Content of communications.
  7. Call detail information.
  8. Web browsing history, application usage history, and the functional equivalents of either.

The question now is whether this change is enough to overcome opposition from telephone, cable and other telecoms companies with stacks of campaign cash and platoons of lobbyists to hand it out. The answer is probably not, but lawmakers are being careful not to be too obvious about it. AB 375 is stuck in the senate rules committee, where legislative leaders can quietly kill it and protect their political cash flow simply by doing nothing. If it does make it to a floor vote, then it should have a fighting chance. Senators, particularly democratic ones, won’t want to upset consumer groups back home by voting against it.

Two other broadband related bills – AB 1665 and senate bill 649 – are likewise stuck in committees. AB 1665, which would gut California’s broadband infrastructure subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund – and give hundreds of millions of dollars to AT&T, Frontier and other incumbents, hasn’t resurfaced yet. It’s sitting in the senate energy, utilities and communications committee. SB 649 is parked in the assembly appropriations committee. That’s the bill that would give wireless companies open access to public property at below market rates.