States, ACLU Fight For Electronic Privacy Legislation

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Since Congress seems unable to come up with an answer for the nation, 16 states and the District of Columbia have presented a collection of bills to build up privacy protections that would help protect students and the broader citizenry.

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, managed the bills’ presentations. He expressed his concern that people were losing control of their lives. Every person, said the ACLU head, should have the right to decide who can have access to their personal data.

The National Journal’s Brendan Sasso reports that the bills, which were rolled out by Republicans and Democrats in states ranging from Alaska to North Carolina, aim at limiting police surveillance, allowing more encompassing privacy rights for students, and protecting employees from being forced to provide access to their social media accounts.

The federal government has not taken the lead in this effort, according to the state of Michigan’s Rep. Peter Lucido (R-District 36), who sponsored such a bill. He declared that it was time for states to take the issue into their own hands. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) expects that this momentum for protecting US citizens privacy rights will likely encourage Congress to take action as well.

Congress has not completely ignored the problem. After the Edward Snowden leaks, lawmakers passed historic legislation last year to control the domestic surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. But Congress was forced to deal with the issue because provisions of the Patriot Act were about to end.

Teri Robinson of SC Magazine, published for IT security professionals, reports that Lucido is of the opinion that privacy is one of the most important issues currently at stake in the US. He adds that organizations, particularly financial institutions, share private customer information without the customers knowing that it is occurring. Lucido also noted that the ACLU and others have been updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) for many years.

“In the nearly three decades since ECPA became law, technology has advanced rapidly and beyond the imagination of anyone living in 1986,” Rep. Mike Lee, (R-Utah), said at the time. “The prevalence of email and the low cost of electronic data storage have made what were once robust protections insufficient to ensure that citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights are adequately protected.”

ACLU Minnesota Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said that “privacy is a fundamental right” during an interview with Tim Pugmire on Minnesota Public Radio. In 2012, Samuelson sued the Minnewaska school district for demanding a student’s Facebook password. As part of the settlement, the district changed its privacy policy, writes Brian Lambert for MinnPost.

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown first passed privacy legislation into law in 2014, but it officially went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, writes the Lawyer Herald. The law states that all education technology companies must protect and control security procedures concerning the personal information of students. The companies must also delete any information about students if the school requests that they do so.

By insisting on privacy rights, California will be providing one of the strongest forms of protection for students in the US. The new law will prohibit companies from making profits by using students’ personal data.