A proposal that would have blocked internet service providers in Minnesota from collecting and selling customer data – without written permission – has been removed from a bill. At least for right now.
Back in late March, an amendment adding that layer of data protection was approved by a 66-1 vote in the Minnesota Senate. (A similar proposal was approved in a House bill as well.) The amendment was included in a broader economics bill at the time, when federal lawmakers were making moves to allow ISPs to sell customer data.
But with the House and Senate each approving different versions of the larger bill that contained the data protection language, it went to a conference committee – that's where a smaller group of lawmakers from both chambers get together, hash out differences, and come up with a final identical bill (called a conference committee report) the full House and Senate can vote on.
The bill that contained this ISP data protection was the subject of a conference committee Monday. During it, the data protection language was removed from the current version of the conference committee report.
That got the attention of Democrat Ron Latz, the senator who originally offered the amendment,.
He and DFL Rep. Paul Thissen held a news conference Tuesday to increase public pressure. They accused Republicans of unduly eliminating something that had broad support and protected Minnesotans.
"Minnesotans are demanding that their privacy be protected, that they understand what their rights are, and that they get access to the services that are critical to participation again in the modern economy, without having to give up all of their personal information and their personal privacy," Thissen said.
One argument: It wasn't vetted enough
Republican Sen. David Osmek is on the conference committee working on the jobs bill, and was the single lawmaker to vote against the amendment when Latz offered it up initially.
He told GoMN Wednesday his main issue is vetting – whether he agrees with the idea or not. (And he authored a standalone version of such a bill earlier.)
"Before even submitting these two amendments there wasn't one hearing, in the Senate or the House," he said. "There wasn't one bill submitted in the Senate or the House. We don't have a grasp on either language, how expansive it would be and how it would impact consumers – and even if it would protect them at all."
Osmek said the House and Senate versions of the ISP language are pretty different (one is about eight lines, and the other is much longer), and that the senators and representatives from the committee haven't been able to agree on what language to use – so he recommended they take it out. He said removing proposals for a conference committee report "happens routinely."
"If you have things that you don't agree upon, you don't put them in the conference report," he said, noting there is no testimony nor are there hearings to help guide the discussions. There also isn't time to do any of that, with less than three weeks to go before the legislative session ends May 22.
He also said the decision isn't final right now.
Some type of ISP language could be added back in for the final conference committee report. If there are enough votes among the two groups of five lawmakers to include it in a final report that gets sent to the full House and Senate, then it'll continue on.
"This is such a large issue, and it can have such long-ranging and downstream effects, I have real serious issues with going forward with anything, without at least having the regular process take place," he said.
Minnesota already has privacy protections
Osmek also points to a currently existing state statute, 325M, as already giving Minnesotans some data privacy protections.
Approved more than a decade ago, it prohibits ISPs from knowingly disclosing "personally identifiable information" – that includes a physical or electronic address, what pages you've visited, or any contents on a storage device you have. Osmek says that law is fully enforceable by the attorney general, and if it needs to be modified, "let's have a hearing and talk about expanding it."
He said they need to listen to consumers and the telecom industry and privacy rights advocates, and talk to the attorney general's office about if there have been cases.