Government & Politics

Johnson County lawmaker introduces bill to protect internet privacy in Kansas

President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday that repealed broadband privacy regulations, which were adopted under President Barack Obama, requiring internet service providers to obtain users’ permission before using their web browsing history, geolocation and other personal information to create targeted advertisements.
President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday that repealed broadband privacy regulations, which were adopted under President Barack Obama, requiring internet service providers to obtain users’ permission before using their web browsing history, geolocation and other personal information to create targeted advertisements. AP file photo

A Johnson County lawmaker introduced legislation Thursday that would prevent internet service providers from selling customers’ information without their consent — three days after the federal government scrapped this protection at the national level.

President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday that repealed broadband privacy regulations, which were adopted under President Barack Obama, requiring internet service providers to obtain users’ permission before using their web browsing history, geolocation and other personal information to create targeted advertisements. The regulations, which were crafted by the Federal Communications Commission, had not yet gone into effect before Trump signed the repeal.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican, introduced a bill Thursday that would restore the regulation for Kansas. Clayton called enacting the protection for consumers a “moral imperative.”

“I would assume that any legislator that cares about the privacy of their constituents, regardless of their party, would be happy to support this,” Clayton said. “My real question is: Who wouldn’t?”

A poll from the Huffington Post and the British survey firm YouGov found that of 1,000 U.S. adults, only 12 percent thought that the regulations should be repealed, while 71 percent supported the privacy protections. The remaining 17 percent were undecided.

Clayton said she was “completely shocked” when congressional Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill last week, adding that privacy is an issue that should transcend party lines.

“Privacy is for everyone. And it shocks me that anyone would vote in a way that eliminates it,” Clayton said.

One exception was U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a fellow Overland Park Republican and the only member of the Kansas delegation to vote against the bill.

“In the 21st century, Americans deeply value their privacy when it comes to digital content,” Yoder said when he broke party ranks and voted against the bill. “We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business.”

Yoder said the digital privacy rules mirror long-standing regulations for telephone companies.

Clayton said she had no problem with internet providers using targeted ads based on personal data if they obtain permission from users first.

John Federico, the president of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, pushed back against the idea that Kansas needs a new law to ensure internet users’ privacy.

“While the cable industry appreciates and supports any state legislator’s interest in protecting consumers’ privacy, it is critically important that before hastily-crafted state laws are enacted, that the true facts of this complex issue are understood by both consumers and policymakers. In short, recent congressional action did NOT put consumer information at risk nor create a pathway for Internet Service Providers, cable companies included, to sell sensitive data to the highest bidder,” Federico said in an email.

Tom Struble, policy counsel for TechFreedom, a libertarian-leaning technology think tank based in Washington, D.C., said the repealed FCC regulations for service providers, such as AT&T, were more stringent than the regulations applied to websites, such as Google and Facebook, by the Federal Trade Commission.

“Google is getting access to the same data, and they don’t have to offer opt-in consent,” he said. Struble, a Kansas native, said the nation should adopt “one standard throughout the whole ecosystem” instead of regulating service providers more strictly than websites.

Molly Kocour Boyle, spokeswoman for AT&T in Kansas and Missouri, echoed this point, saying in an email that a single government agency should enforce uniform standards.

Clayton modeled the bill on legislation that is pending in Minnesota. Similar legislation is also being considered by state legislatures in Montana and Illinois, according to The Associated Press.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

  Comments