Comment: Your digital privacy rights need a stronger shield

Legislation in the state House would outline rights and establish a commission to enforce them.

By April Berg and Vandana Slatter / For The Herald

Any time we are online, information is continually being generated about us. Technology can and should be a force for good. Unfortunately, using smart phones or the internet today often means giving up control of incredibly personal information.

Let’s say you’ve asked a website to stop using your personal data, but they didn’t stop. Now what?

In recent years, a large national big-box retailer was exposed as directing ads to women who were very early in their pregnancies- based on the tracking history of pregnant women’s buying patterns. This is information a woman’s family may not even know about; until they see the pop-up add for diapers. And this week state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he is filing a lawsuit against one of the largest tech firms for secretly tracking consumer locations. Why should giant corporations be allowed to control or sell our most personal information?

We are rapidly learning that our data is the raw material that propels the work of the technology industry, but we don’t have clear options in Washington state to protect our digital privacy today. In fact, many people think there is no privacy online anymore. We often resign ourselves to consenting to privacy policies if only to stay connected to our work, family and world. Technology has become an integral part of our lives but if your private information is being sold or shared, it can put your job, credit or even your health at risk.

Privacy does exist and we can do better.

Everyone in Washington state deserves digital privacy rights. That’s why we’re introducing House Bill 1850, a new proposal that protects your rights and provides the foundational framework for a safe digital infrastructure.

Our legislation empowers you to know when your data is being controlled by a private entity, how you can access and delete personal data, how to opt-out of data collection used for targeted ads, and how to revoke consent.

This legislation also creates a Consumer Data Privacy Commission which would investigate and enforce privacy rights, the same way we do with utilities in Washington state. For example, power customers can turn to the Utilities and Transportation Commission to remedy billing, disconnection and service issues. That model provides a blueprint to ensure the security of our personal data without the high barrier of time, money and privilege.

As legislators representing areas of our state with large communities of color and immigrant populations, we are committed to bringing working people, people of color, rural Washingtonians and older neighbors to the table to say, “don’t forget about us.” We can empower all people by creating a foundation of fundamental privacy rights; so they are accessible to all residents.

Privacy can’t exist just for the privileged few.

Many privacy advocates, and even the tech industry, agree that regulations are vital. But, for the last three years, legislators have tried but have not been able to agree on a Senate-based policy that did not include a commission. Consumer protection and regulation is a key role that government can play when the odds are stacked against us. States like California have already taken strong privacy action including an agency, as has the entire European Union; we know that we can do it here, too.

Yet this won’t happen without a fight for strong consumer protections with clear “rules of the road” for tech companies.

If you support stronger digital privacy rights in Washington state, please take a moment to stand up, speak out and share your story. Call the Legislative Hotline at 800-562-6000 or contact your local lawmakers to learn more and to support House Bill 1850 to protect your digital privacy.

State Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, represents the 44th Legislative District. She also serves on the Everett School Board and formerly served on the Edmonds School Board and City of Mill Creek Planning Commission. In the House of Representatives, she is vice chair of the Finance Committee and is a member of Education Committee and Local Government Committee.

Stte Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, represents the 48th Legislative District. She chairs the College and Workforce Development Committee and is a member of the Environment and Energy Committee and Transportation Committee.

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