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What you need to know for 04/24/2017

Editorial: State must help safeguard personal privacy

Editorial: State must help safeguard personal privacy

Government should be there to pick us up and protect us
Editorial: State must help safeguard personal privacy
Photographer: Shutterstock

As the Trump administration starts dismantling federal laws designed to protect citizens, it’s going to be up to the states to make sure those protections remain in place.

That goes for the environment. It goes for banking and consumer issues. It goes for health care.

And it goes for personal privacy.

As much as our Legislature gets thumped for its questionable budgeting practices, several lawmakers have introduced important bills to counter the deregulatory furor taking place in Washington regarding internet privacy and the release of consumers’ private information for use by businesses.

Just think about how much personal information you share on the internet, not only by what you post on Facebook and Twitter, but the information you agree to allow companies access to when you sign up for an app or when you do personal banking or shopping online.

The old days of ripping up your carbons when you bought something with a credit card are long gone. 

Internet providers now not only have access to your address and personal contact information, but your age, height, political affiliation, religion, occupation, relatives and friends, Social Security number, debit and credit card information, health information and a lot of other information that we all once kept private to a large degree.

Most of us readily give up this private personal information, which businesses, insurance companies, banks and the government can exploit to deny us services, employment, health care, access to education and credit.

Last year, in an attempt to stem some of these business practices, the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama installed privacy rules requiring broadband providers to get permission to track browsing and other internet activity, according to a New York Times article. The companies also had to take reasonable measures to secure consumer information against hackers, the Times reported.

But only two months after those protections went into effect, the new Republican Congress voted to once again allow internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T to track and share people’s browsing and app activity without the consumer’s permission. And more such protections are likely to fall by the wayside under the new Congress.

It’s in situations like this, where the federal protections are being lifted, that New York lawmakers have to step in.

One bill, S5516, sponsored by Buffalo Democratic state Sen. Timothy Kennedy, would require internet service providers to maintain confidentiality of virtually all personal subscriber information unless the subscriber gives permission in writing or by email. 

The companies also would have to clearly inform customers that they have a right to request their information be kept confidential, and they would be expressly prohibited from punishing consumers (through poor-quality or slower service) who request their information be withheld.

Another bill, which has been floating around the Legislature for about eight years, is called the Online Consumer Protection Act.

This act, contained in bill A3667, has similar provisions to the Senate bill, in that it would, according to the bill memo, “establish rules and privacy policies regarding how website publishers  and advertising networks collect and disseminate the online behavior of consumers.”

It also contains a provision requiring that consumers be made aware of an option to opt out from online advertising.

Yet another bill, S3657, would establish the Office of State Online Privacy Protection and Internet Safety, which would promote and protect the internet privacy of individuals and businesses through education, coordination of state agencies and through a system of processing complaints.

Other pending legislation, like the two-house bill A3448/S924 and A3506 relate to cyber-security protections.

Just because we use the internet, it shouldn’t automatically mean that we give up all aspects of our personal privacy. 

In some ways, we can do a much better job protecting ourselves by installing and updating security features on our electronic devices and being more careful about what information we allow service providers and others to access.

But where we fall down, the government should be there to pick us up and protect us.

If the federal government won’t do it, we need our state government to step in.

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