Serious State house Debates over Internet Privacy

The republicans running the country, the federal government has already started looking at laws governing the use of online data for consumers’ country wide. However, the states have some plans of their own.

Legislators in Illinois, for example, are working on a “right to know” bill giving consumers full knowledge on which of their data companies like Facebook and Google are collecting and which businesses and industries are they sharing it with. Since consumers in Europe already possess this right, having it in place has been a longtime objective for many supporters of online privacy.

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Two other bills are due to be voted on this week at Illinois House Committee. One of them governs how smartphone applications track the location of consumers and the other is more focused on limiting the microphone usage in devices that are constantly connected over the internet, like smart TVs, mobile phones and Amazon echo etc.

If they are passed into law, these regulations would benefit consumers’ way beyond Illinois, being a role model for other states to follow. IT companies would also find it difficult to alter features based on different geographical locations, especially when there are hundreds of millions of consumers involved and hence complying with regulations in one state can mean that users in other states are also benefitting from the same laws.

Illinois is definitely not the only state where legislators are working to uphold internet privacy. Connecticut and California recently passed laws that prevent the government from accessing online communication, like emails and New Mexico is deemed to pass similar laws soon. West Virginia and Nebraska have already approved regulations limiting the monitoring of employees’ social media accounts by their employers. Law makers in Missouri and Hawaii are working on similar bills for employees but have also included tenants and students in it.

While you could say that the Obama administration had a friendly ear for all advocates of civil liberties, online privacy and different consumer groups of similar nature, the new white house regime and the congress are only looking at reversing some if not all of those changes, let alone creating new ones. This has created the need for the legislators in different states to raise their heads and start working on laws of their own. As one would say, obstruction at the federal level has started creating opportunities at the state level.

The “right to know” bill in Illinois has gone past the Senate Judiciary Committee, making way for its full vote now. This has naturally attracted a fierce retaliation against it from the technology giants. Different representatives from major companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Lyft have visited the office of the Democratic state senator, Michael Hastings, to work on altering the bill. Just last year, activists for Facebook failed in an attempt to have an amendment in Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy act, which would have weakened it by leaving out the technology used for photo-tagging, something very so often used on social media.

We are all glad that the states have realized the importance of users’ privacy over the internet and are doing something to keep it private. Let’s just hope that the federal government also appreciates this and gives it the full support that is needed.

About the author:

Nuur Hasan is a software developer and a political activist, he intends to dedicate his life to the becoming the voice of the voiceless.

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