Californian ISP privacy rules wounded, but still twitching

14 September 2017 by Steve Blum
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One last try at baking Internet privacy rules into California law is underway. Assembly bill 375 was amended on Tuesday, just ahead of a new 72-hour deadline for posting the final version of proposed legislation – the California legislature’s current session clocks out tomorrow night.

Arguably, the changes are an improvement. Specific security and disclosure requirements were cut out, along with references to telephone service, with the result that the bill focuses on the core issue: what can Internet service providers do with information about and provided by their customers?

AB 375 would…

Prohibit broadband Internet access service providers, as defined, from using, disclosing, or permitting access to customer proprietary information, as defined…

[and] would prohibit those providers from refusing to provide broadband Internet access service, or in any way limiting that service, to a customer who does not waive his or her privacy rights guaranteed by law or regulation, and would prohibit those providers from charging a customer a penalty, penalizing a customer in any way, or offering a customer a discount or another benefit, as a direct or indirect consequence of a customer’s decision to, or refusal to, waive his or her privacy rights guaranteed by law or regulation.

Security is very important of course, and ISPs should give customers proper notice about privacy policies too, but there are already rules in place that address at least some of those concerns. Core ISP privacy regulations, on the other hand, were completely scrapped by the federal government earlier this year. A simple and focused fix for that one, specific problem has advantages, not least that it offers clarity for ISPs and consumers alike.

One change, though, isn’t so helpful. If the bill passes, California’s ISP privacy law won’t take effect until 1 January, 2019. That gives the bill’s opponents – big political contributors like AT&T, Comcast and other incumbents – all of 2018 to kill it, via a court challenge, federal preemption or new legislation in Sacramento. That’s also an election year, when the scramble for campaign cash reaches manic levels.

But AB 375 isn’t law yet. As of this morning, it is still stuck in the powerful and very opaque senate rules committee, a club for party leaders of both persuasions. Unless it’s released for floor votes in the senate and assembly before tomorrow, it’ll die a quiet death.