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Another Voice: State needs to protect internet privacy

By Monica P. Wallace

For most New Yorkers, the internet is a necessity in our homes, schools and businesses, and it has become a critical aspect of our everyday lives. We use it to shop, apply for jobs, research doctors and possible illnesses, apply for loans, pay bills, communicate with friends and so much more.

As a result, internet service providers have access to an “unprecedented breadth” of information about their customers. Internet service providers act as our “gateway” to the internet, and thus have the ability to see every piece of information we send electronically. They also have the ability to tie our browsing history directly to our name and address.

Access to this “unprecedented breadth” of information raises serious privacy concerns. In an effort to address those concerns, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled out regulations last October to prevent internet service providers from sharing or selling their customers’ browsing history to third-party advertisers without consent. But in April, Congress repealed those protections before they were implemented, leaving the personal privacy of millions of Americans up for sale to the highest bidder.

Because I believe most New Yorkers value internet privacy, I’ve introduced legislation in the Assembly (A7191) to protect customer information. My legislation requires internet service providers to obtain their customers’ consent before using or disclosing private customer information. This legislation places control over disclosure where it belongs – with the customer. It also prohibits companies from refusing to provide service unless consent is given.

The customer, not the internet service provider, should have the ability to determine whether personal information can be disclosed. We pay internet service providers for a service – access to the internet. However, our use of that service does not mean we also agree to allow our private browsing history to be sold on the open market. Instead, internet service providers should be required to get our permission to use our personal electronic footprint.

While some internet providers have taken steps to protect customer data, not all have, and even those that have done so could reverse course tomorrow.

In the absence of federal legislation on this issue, New York must now act to ensure all internet service providers respect privacy rights.

My legislation has received strong, bipartisan support in the Assembly. The legislation has also been introduced in the Senate, where it enjoys similar bipartisan support. New Yorkers deserve transparency, privacy and respect, not to have their private information compromised for commercial gain.

Monica P. Wallace, D-Lancaster, represents the 143rd District in the New York State Assembly.

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