For the third year in a row, the Washington state Legislature is considering a weak, industry-backed data privacy bill. The Washington Privacy Act (Senate Bill 5062) has vague language, a laundry list of exemptions and a provision that explicitly prohibits people from holding companies accountable when they violate people’s digital privacy rights.
Yet supporters of SB 5062, including the bill’s sponsor, have touted this toothless, corporate-centric bill as the “strongest legislation in the world” that aims to be the “gold standard” of privacy. But when national consumer rights organizations like Consumer Federation of America and privacy advocates oppose, while big-tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft enthusiastically back a bill that professes to protect consumers, we should all be suspicious whether such a bill will truly empower people to protect their data or just provide a facade of privacy.
Every day, our personal information is collected, used and shared, often without our knowledge — much less our consent. From cellphone service providers like AT&T selling customers’ real-time locations to a series of companies ending with bounty hunters, to menstrual cycle tracking apps sharing private health information such as period dates and pregnancy plans with Facebook, it seems like we learn about new data abuses every single day. Moreover, privacy violations and misuse of personal information disproportionately affect people with lower incomes and people of color who are already subjected to outsized surveillance and data-based discrimination.
It is clear that to prevent such abuses, we need a strong data privacy law that puts people in charge of their data — not one that hamstrings people’s ability to enforce their rights.
This year, we have a community-driven, people-centric alternative: The People’s Privacy Act, House Bill 1433, introduced by state Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland. It was created by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington with input and support from the Tech Equity Coalition, a group of civil liberties and civil rights-focused organizations and individuals working to hold technology accountable and lift up the voices of historically marginalized and disproportionately surveilled communities in decisions about technology.
The People’s Privacy Act is founded on the assumption that everyone’s privacy should be protected by default and that people’s data should not be used without their affirmative, opt-in consent. It gives people the right to know what data companies have about them and the right to correct and delete their information. It prohibits companies from using, selling or sharing data without people meaningfully given consent, which is the true gold standard for privacy.
HB 1433 also makes it unlawful for companies and government agencies to use people’s personal information to discriminate and bans use or installation of facial recognition technology or equipment incorporating artificial intelligence-enabled profiling in any place of public accommodation (like restaurants, hotels, theaters, pharmacies, parks, schools and stores). The People’s Privacy Act ensures local jurisdictions can advance stronger privacy laws if they wish, protecting community voices. Finally, it provides meaningful enforcement through a private right of action that empowers people to take companies to court for privacy violations.
These strong privacy protections are necessary to protect our civil rights and civil liberties. Nontransparent and unaccountable collection of our personal information chills free speech and free association, undermines press freedom, threatens the free exercise of religion and harms our collective privacy. The People’s Privacy Act offers much-needed protections in an increasingly data-driven world where we are increasingly required to share personal information or allow surveillance to participate in public life and access basic social goods, services and opportunities. HB 1433 puts people in control of their data — and their rights.
The People’s Privacy Act is the right approach. It is the only option before the Legislature that prioritizes the interests of people and communities and is meaningfully enforceable.
As threats to our privacy and civil liberties continue to burgeon in size and scope, Washington legislators have a historic opportunity to enact the People’s Privacy Act. This year, we do not have to choose between weak regulations or no regulation at all. We have a real choice, and that choice is clear. Washington should adopt the People’s Privacy Act (HB 1433) — a bill that truly empowers people to control their data and protect their privacy.