New Jersey is joining the growing roster of states to consider passing their own broadband privacy laws.
Lawmaker Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat in the State Assembly, today introduced a bill that would restrict broadband providers' ability to disclose a host of information about subscribers that could be used for ad targeting. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission passed nationwide broadband privacy rules, but they were repealed in March by Congress.
Zwicker's new bill would require carriers to obtain users' consent before disclosing data that's traditionally considered "personally identifiable," like names, and addresses, as well as data that may provide clues to users' identities, like device identifiers and IP addresses. The measure also specifically covers Web browsing histories, contents of communications, and "demographic data."
"We need to protect what is supposed to be private, and not use it for profit," Zwicker tells MediaPost.
Zwicker, a physicist with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, says he reached out to online privacy experts, including Princeton colleague (and former Federal Trade Commission technologist) Ed Felten, to determine what types of information should be covered by the bill.
In April, President Donald Trump signed a bill repealing nationwide broadband privacy rules that prohibited carriers from drawing on people's Web-browsing history for ad purposes, without their opt-in consent. The repeal cleared the Senate by a party-line 50-48 vote. In the House, the vote was 215-205, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.
The ad industry and broadband carriers lobbied heavily against the FCC's rules, arguing that they subjected Internet service providers to tougher standards than Google, Facebook or other online companies. Those other companies typically allow consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but only require opt-in consent before serving ads based on a narrow category of "sensitive" data -- like financial account numbers, or health information.
Privacy advocates countered that broadband providers weren't comparable to search engines, social networking services or other Web publishers. Advocates pointed out that only Internet service providers have access to all unencrypted sites visited by subscribers, and that many consumers have no choice about which ISP to use.
The repeal sparked a privacy backlash at the local level. Currently, around a dozen states are considering passing new laws. The city of Seattle recently also passed its own privacy regulations that require cable providers to obtain subscribers' opt-in consent before using information about their Web browsing for ad purposes. Those rules will take effect May 24.
In Zwicker's home state, the Star-Ledger blasted federal lawmakers' decision to revoke the FCC's privacy rules.
"Now nothing will stop these ISPs from hoarding your data and selling it to the highest bidder," the paper's editorial board wrote in March. "In other words, your GOP congressman just decided that he can compromise your privacy because some corporate colossus should be able to profit off it without your consent."