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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Senate, House seek to block unauthorized use of internet customer info

OLYMPIA -- Dome of the Legislative Building is framed by cherry blossoms now blooming on the Capitol Campus. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA -- Dome of the Legislative Building is framed by cherry blossoms now blooming on the Capitol Campus. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington could try to block a federal effort to allow internet providers to sell customer data by making such sales a violation of the state’s consumer protection law.

Bipartisan bills filed in both the Senate and House would block internet service providers ability to collect personal information without a customer’s permission. 

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, sponsor of the proposed Internet Privacy Act filed Tuesday, said he has receive many calls from constituents since Congress voted last week to eliminate certain privacy protections and allow ISPs to collect and sell their customers data. They’re worried about big internet companies invading their privacy, he said.

Federal legislation passed the House 215-205 and the Senate 50-48; President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

“So much of our daily lives now depend on the internet – paying bills, making appointments, purchasing products and discovering new information,” Ranker said in a press release announcing the bill. 

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said the public has a reasonable right to privacy when they are online.

“We wouldn’t tolerate the government selling our information because we visited a particular park or a company selling our information because we looked through its show window at the mall,” Fain said. “We deserve the same right to consent in our digital lives as well.”

Under the Senate proposal, any internet company operating in Washington would need to get written consent from a customer before collecting personal information, the bill says. Refusal to grant permission to collect personal data could not be used as a reason to deny a customer service. 

A longer House proposal requires an internet company to inform customers in clear language of the type sensitive proprietary information it plans to collect on them, and require customers to opt in to any plan to use or disclose that information. It also says a customer’s denial of the use of that information can’t result in the company refusing service. The company must also take measures to prevent personal information from unauthorized use or disclosure.

Under both bills, failing to comply would be a violation of Washington’s consumer protection laws. 

That would allow the state an avenue to prevent internet companies, even those located out of state, from collecting or misusing that information through the threat of prosecution, Ranker said.

Although the Legislature has only 18 days left in its regular session, and the standard deadlines for hearing bills in committee have passed, Ranker said the Senate bill has 32 senators as co-sponsors, which would be enough to suspend rules to move it through on a fast track. As a consumer affairs bill, it could be assigned to the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee, where Chairman Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, is a co-sponsor, Ranker said. 

Passing the bill would also put the Trump administration on notice that Washington objects to this change in federal laws governing the internet, he said.

The House proposal has 37 co-sponsors, including some of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans and some of its most liberal Democrats. 

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.