California Broadband Privacy Bill Faces Tough Fight

A California online privacy bill that would limit broadband providers' ability to serve ads to subscribers based on their web-browsing history advanced this week, but still appears to face an uphill battle.

On Thursday, the state legislature Rules Committee referred the bill to three separate committees -- Business, Professions and Economic Development; Judiciary; and Energy, Utilities and Communications. All of those committees must clear the measure before it can move on to the Assembly and Senate. If that doesn't happen in the next two weeks, the measure will likely die -- at least for this year.

The bill, introduced June 19 by State Assemblyman Ed Chau, aims to restore the Federal Communications Commission's nationwide broadband privacy rules. Those rules -- repealed by Congress earlier this year -- also required broadband providers to obtain subscribers' explicit consent before using their online browsing history for behavioral advertising.



Chau's bill, which is backed by digital rights groups, has been endorsed by several California newspapers, including the San Diego Union Tribune and Press Democrat. But broadband companies and business groups oppose the measure.

A large majority of the public appeared to support the FCC's regulations. An April survey by Huffington Post and YouGov showed that more than 70% of Republicans and Democrats wanted Trump to veto the repeal.

Privacy advocates argue that broadband providers should obtain people's explicit permission before tracking them for ad purposes. Among other reasons, advocates point out that Internet service providers are uniquely positioned to capture comprehensive data about subscribers, because only ISPs have access to all unencrypted sites visited by customers.

The Association of National Advertisers -- along with broadband providers and Google -- opposed the FCC's scrapped privacy regulations. Opponents have said that all companies, including broadband providers, should be able to collect and use most Web browsing data on an opt-out basis. (Currently, many online ad companies allow allow consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but require opt-in consent before serving ads based on a narrow category of "sensitive" data -- like financial account numbers, or health information.)

At least 21 states reportedly are now considering passing their own broadband privacy laws. On the federal level, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), who spearheaded the Congressional repeal of the FCC's rules, recently introduced a law that would require all Web companies (including search engines and social networking services) to obtain users' opt-in consent before serving them ads based on their Web-surfing history.

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