The California Legislature is Trying to Run Out the Clock on Protecting Broadband Privacy

UPDATE 9/12, 3:18 pm: soon after this blog post went up, the California Senate Rules Committee voted 3-2 to allow the bill to move forward. But, that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The bill still has to go through several procedural requirements, and ultimately must be voted on by the full Senate and Assembly on Friday. You should still call your state representatives to support the measure and ensure they vote in favor of A.B. 375 on Friday.

Over the past several months, the Open Technology Institute has been working with the California legislature to help remedy the mistake Congress made earlier this year when it repealed the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. In June 2017, California Assemblymember Ed Chau introduced a strong broadband privacy bill, A.B. 375. But now, with large ISPs staunchly opposed to the measure, the California Senate is holding the bill in the hopes that the clock runs out, effectively killing the bill procedurally. However, there is still time to make your voice heard if you act by Friday, September 15.

For those who may be new to this issue, the FCC passed robust broadband privacy rules in October 2016, returning to consumers some control over their privacy they have long desired. The rules ensured that internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon protected “sensitive” information, including browser and app usage history, by default. These protections would have provided consumers additional options and control over how their ISP used their data. Congress, however, repealed the rules earlier this year, leaving no rules on the books to protect broadband privacy. States, including California, have attempted to fill the gap left by Congress by proposing laws to protect broadband privacy.

Despite how privacy-protective California has traditionally been, California Senate leadership has fought A.B. 375 tooth and nail. When the bill was introduced, the Senate Rules Committee refused to refer the bill out to other committees. With public pressure, the Rules Committee finally referred it out to three substantive committees, the most it could. The Committee on Business and Professions waived its jurisdiction because it made little sense for that committee to hear the bill. The other two committees, Senate Judiciary and the Committee on Utilities and Energy, held hearings and both committees voted it out with an agreement to match A.B. 375 to the FCC’s rule (which has happened).

Now, those amendments are now back at the Rules Committee, and it has again has refused to refer the bill out, despite the good faith negotiations from both sides and the overwhelming public, press, and small ISP support for the bill. Efforts to get the committee to release the bill (again) have been unsuccessful thus far. The Rules Committee has until this Friday, September 15 to refer the bill out of committee. After that date, large ISPs and Senate leadership will have successfully run the clock out, to the serious detriment of all Californians. They should not be allowed to do this silently.

If you live in California and want to express your support for increased broadband privacy protections, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a page to find out how to reach out to your representatives.

Author:

Eric Null is policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, focusing on internet openness and affordability issues, including network neutrality, Lifeline, and privacy.