September 15, 2019
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Maine aims to fortify internet privacy protections that Congress weakened

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Shenna Bellows speaks at a press conference in Portland in this Sept. 8, 2014, file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that could make Maine the first state to reinstate internet privacy rules similar to those nixed by a Republican-led Congress in 2017 was endorsed by a legislative committee on Tuesday in a move that bodes well for its passage.

The bill from Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, would prohibit internet service providers operating in Maine from using or selling access to personal information of customers unless the customer consents to it. A similar bill failed to pass last year by one vote in the Senate.

That chamber was Republican-led at the time, but the Maine Legislature is now led by Democrats. Bellows’ bill has a bipartisan list of co-sponsors and was endorsed on Tuesday in an 8-1 vote of the Legislature’s energy panel. It will now go to the chambers for votes.

Nevada and Minnesota have long-standing laws making internet service providers keep certain information private without consent, but Maine’s would be the most ambitious law passed after Congress’ 2017 move to repeal privacy rules enshrined under former Democratic President Barack Obama.

Those rules would have required customers’ consent before using personal information to target advertisements to them, but they never took effect after President Donald Trump signed the repeal into law. Maine’s two senators — Republican Susan Collins and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats — split on the change. Collins voted with her party.

Repeal proponents said the rules were an economically harmful overreach, while opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union and the digital-rights Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the highly personal information should be regulated.

The push for the Maine bill was led by the ACLU of Maine — which Bellows once ran — and it was backed by Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, and GWI, the Biddeford-based Internet service provider. It was opposed by national trade groups for the wireless communications and broadband industries and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

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