California lawmakers revive Internet privacy rules dumped by Trump administration

19 July 2017 by Steve Blum
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California is stepping into the privacy vacuum created by federal policy makers when they scrapped consumer protection rules adopted last year. Assembly bill 375 was approved by the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee yesterday. It would put sharp restrictions on what Internet service providers can do with their customers’ information…

An Internet service provider may use, disclose, sell, or permit access to customer personal information if the customer gives the Internet service provider prior opt-in consent, which may be revoked by the customer at any time. The mechanism for requesting and revoking consent under this subdivision shall be clear and conspicuous…not misleading, in the language primarily used to conduct business with the customer, and made available to the customer at no additional cost. The mechanism shall also be persistently available on or through the Internet service provider’s Internet Web site, or mobile application if it provides one for account management purposes.

The bill is supported by consumer groups and carried by assemblyman Ed Chau (D – Monterey Park). The opposition was led by the California cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, with AT&T, Frontier, Comcast and Charter singing back up.

That wasn’t enough to stall it. Internet privacy is one of the battle line issues between California democrats and the Trump administration, as several senators made clear. It’s become a high profile one too, judging by the TV news cameras in the room.

Committee chair Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) set the tone at the beginning of the hearing, with a rambling discourse on the essential nature of telecommunications services and the importance of privacy, including detours into the evils of communism and the role of Russian hackers in the last election. Although the telecoms industry lobbyists claimed they should be treated like any other Internet business, committee members pointed to the lack of choice consumers have when buying broadband service and argued for even tighter privacy rules.

In the end, they approved it, albeit with scant support from republicans. AB 375 now moves to the senate judiciary committee and from there, it seems likely, on to a full floor vote.