Real Electronic Data Protection Is Opt In

6 mins read

Washingtonians should encourage their representatives to support the Kloba amendment to SB 5062.

The Washington legislature is about to vote on SB 5062, the “Bad” Washington Privacy Act. Keeping personal data private is an issue that affects all of us — and Rep. Shelley Kloba has introduced an amendment that fixes a lot of the major problems with the bill, providing much stronger protections.

All of our electronic interactions create data, and that data is essentially a commodity, valuable to public and private entities alike. Our information is collected, bought and sold, and used for a variety of purposes from individual targeting, to identifying groups, to manipulating and predicting behaviors. 

Collection of this data is useful in some respects, for example, by presenting us with information that matches our interests. But it can also be dangerous, making it easier to target specific communities or even track down individuals. In some cases, all it takes to access this information is the ability to pay a fee. 

In essence, this data serves as a digital profile of who we are — but just because it’s about us doesn’t mean it actually belongs to us. 

SB 5062 is currently moving through the Washington State Legislature, and we will know its fate within the next few days. A number of changes to the bill have been made or proposed thus far, and yet the current version still doesn’t protect Washingtonians — even though on the surface it might appear to do so. 

For example, while the bill may offer users the opportunity to “opt out” of the collection of personal data in specific categories, all that checking off the box is really doing is providing a false sense of security. This is because the opt-out approach still lets companies collect, use, and share data by default, data that can then be utilized to identify and place users at risk. The aggregate data of my online activities can paint a pretty clear picture of my identity.

The bill does have stronger “opt-in” protections for data that’s considered “sensitive,” but this still offers very limited protection. One of the major values that data collection provides is the ability to build an accurate picture of a user outside of what we might consider to be typical demographic information. For example, the cosmetics I purchase in a specific color family are enough to tell you that I am a Black woman, and hair care information I access would indicate that I wear my hair in a natural style. But these details aren’t commonly considered sensitive personal information and so they don’t get opt-in protection by the current iteration of the bill. 

Further, with SB 5062, we are reinforcing a system that prioritizes those with resources over those who lack them. Because the data is owned by businesses, not by the individuals it represents, and because access to this data is at least partly determined by the ability to pay for it, SB 5062 will help maintain barriers that make it difficult for consumers to protect their personal data. Ultimately prioritizing the potential monetization of data over the people that information represents becomes even more problematic when data can be accessed to target groups or individuals for the purposes of stalking, harassment and discrimination. There are also no useful remedies for the removal of an individual’s personal information provided in the current bill. 

Essentially, SB 5062 as is purports to provide a measure of data privacy without actually doing so, and it provides a number of ways in which it benefits corporate monetization of data over individual safety and rights. 

However, Rep. Kloba’s amendment, if adopted, would make the Bad Washington Privacy Act much better. One major reason is that it is fully opt in. Allowing users to opt in to data collection places power in the hands of individuals rather than corporations by not automatically assuming consent — and informed consent is vital. The Kloba amendment also addresses other problems including the lack of meaningful remedies for misuse or removal of individuals’ personal information and closes some of the loopholes the bill currently leaves open. 

Data privacy is important, which makes it all the more important that we address it properly. We can do this by adopting measures that put users first. 

Encourage your representatives to support the Kloba amendment to SB 5062.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Brandy Donaghy is a candidate for Snohomish County Council, District 5 in the state of Washington.

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