Facebook mishandling your personal information, Google illegally collecting details on children, creepy targeted ads that mirror conversations you’ve had in the presence of Siri or Alexa — there is no question that we’re in the Wild West when it comes to internet privacy. Your information and habits are a commodity that are likely to be exploited by the websites you visit and your internet service provider.
Avoiding the internet to protect your privacy is not a feasible solution in this day and age. Wading through complex privacy settings that vary between sites is often time-consuming and confusing. Choosing an internet service provider based on its privacy protections is near impossible in most of Maine where there is only one internet service provider.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the government stepped in to protect us? That has certainly been a rallying cry in Maine in recent weeks. When it comes to the Maine Legislature’s interventions on behalf of your internet privacy, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that the state has exercised its full authority to regulate internet service providers doing business in Maine, through the passage of LD 946. Unlike Facebook and Google, you can’t really opt out of having an internet service provider.
Your internet service provider has access to all of your personal data as it flows across the connection it provides. Prior to this bill becoming law, your provider could sell all the detailed sensitive information it collects about you to other companies or the government, including your Social Security number, web browsing history, app usage history, geolocation, financial and health information, and communication content.
Our new law now prohibits your internet service provider from selling or sharing your data with anyone without your permission, and it can’t charge you a higher rate if you refuse to allow them to sell or share your data.
The bad news, as critics of our recent privacy law have pointed out, is that we did not regulate “edge providers,” such as Google and Facebook. What those same critics neglected to point out is that the Maine Legislature does not have clear jurisdiction to regulate these edge providers, due to the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Only Congress has the power to regulate commerce between the states. That is an issue that has come up for California, which recently passed a law to regulate tech companies. It remains to be seen if California’s law will affect companies like Google and Facebook and what legal challenges may arise. Maine legislators are watching this play out, and if it is successful, we’ll likely follow suit once the dust settles.
Recent critics who want to “fix Maine’s privacy law” should have directed you to take your concerns about website privacy protections not to your local legislators, but to Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree. The power is theirs and the timing is right, because the U.S. Senate is currently considering the Consumer Online Privacy Act introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell. Another bill introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker is less preferable because as drafted it would pre-empt Maine’s current law with a likely weaker protection. Companies may be frustrated by what could become a patchwork of different state laws. They can avoid that outcome by supporting the strongest privacy protections for all Americans, rather than fighting against our best interests, as they have been doing federally and state by state.
I am a Maine lawmaker who takes your internet privacy very seriously, as do many of my colleagues. We worked hard to add privacy protections that don’t require you to take any specific action. While you surf the web in Maine, there are two things you need to know — your internet service provider must respect your online privacy, and you should assume that your privacy is at risk on any website until you verify that it is not. If internet privacy matters to you, contact our congressional delegation.
Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, serves on the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, which has jurisdiction on internet privacy.