Advocacy groups slam closed-door negotiations with big tech on Washington State privacy bill

The American Civil Liberties Union has come out swinging against the influence of big tech as Washington State lawmakers amended a proposed data privacy bill in negotiation with a small group of corporate stakeholders, according to GeekWire.

A bill supported by the ACLU was passed by the House Appropriations Committee just before its expiration deadline, and only after it was stripped of many key features, GeekWire reports. Following the passage through committee, Microsoft, Amazon, Comcast, and the Association of Washington Business were invited to participate in closed-door negotiations.

“With this move, tech corporations have made it clear that they will seize the opportunity to regulate their own business as loosely as possible, by willfully neglecting to include impacted communities in the discussion,” said ACLU Washington Technology and Liberty Project Director Shankar Narayan in a statement.

The ACLU has opposed the data protection bill, which was sponsored by Senator Reuven Carlyle, in favor of its legislation, which also went to committee in February. Carlyle’s bill is supported by Microsoft, but GeekWire reports that more than 20 advocacy groups opposed the bill even prior to its extensive amendment.

“We think it was a mistake for Senator Reuven Carlyle to seek the input of lobbyists for big tech companies, including Amazon and Comcast, without asking for advice from those of us whose primary mission is to protect consumers or, for that matter, actual consumers,” WashPIRG Director Elise Orlick says in a statement.

Following the publication of GeekWire’s story, Carlyle responded with a statement of his own.

“Elected representatives have a responsibility to represent all 7 million Washingtonians and throughout this entire, months-long process, we have been reaching out from top to bottom, to activists, organizations in the technology sector and consumers, to get as much information as possible,” Carlyle says. “I personally continue to meet with industry, privacy advocates, the ACLU and many others. As chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee and this bill’s sponsor, I’m committed to passing responsible legislation – based on those conversations and on best practices and lessons learned from the European Union, California and around the world – that takes a strong and meaningful step forward in giving consumers the right to access, delete and manage their own data. At a time when the federal government has effectively walked away from privacy protection, it’s more important than ever for state governments to step up and lead, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Recent moves at the federal level to regulate facial biometrics and machine learning may eventually supersede anything that is decided at the state level.

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