Proposed Washington State facial recognition and data privacy law stalls in House

A proposed data privacy bill supported by Microsoft has Washington State’s failed to reach a vote in the lower house by the deadline for non-budget bills, local publication the Everett Herald reports. The bill’s easy passage through the State Senate by a vote of 46-1 had seemed to suggest it would likely be approved by the House, but it is now likely dead, at least until the next legislative session.

As originally proposed, the Washington Privacy Act, also known as SB 5376, required notice of the use of facial recognition technology in public places, and enabled individuals to demand companies disclose what personal data of theirs they held, and make requests for its deletion. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, democrat Guy Palumbo said it was “a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.” The Herald reports, however, that many legislators on both sides of the aisle felt the consumer protections and enforcement mechanisms were not strong enough.

The bill had been substantially reduced – all of its content replaced by a long paragraph on intended privacy protections – in order to gain required approval by Washington’s House Appropriations Committee. Following that approval, the ACLU said closed-door negotiations were held with Microsoft, Amazon, Comcast, and the Association of Washington Business. There were seven legislators involved in those negotiations, according to the Herald, none among Senate Republicans. They met five times in three days, with House Democrat Zack Hudgins reportedly updating dozens of other people on their progress, to the irritation of the sponsor Reuven Carlyle.

“The hope is that we’ve learned we need to have more voices in the room if we discuss these issues,” Hudgins told GovTech. “Especially around facial recognition, we need to make sure that the communities who are most affected by this technology are in the room. …We need a broader and more robust discussion in order to find better agreement.”

The ACLU favors a proposed privacy law of its own that also went to committee in February. Carlyle has compared the proposed legislation to Europe’s GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, but unlike those laws of Illinois’ BIPA it does not include a right of private action.

ACLU Washington Technology and Liberty Project Director Shankar Narayan opposed both the bill’s original content and the process it had followed.

“The first problem is that it was written by the technology companies themselves,” said Narayan, according to MyNorthwest.com. “And it was stacked up with loopholes so that a company that holds your data can override your consent around that data.”

Carlyle says he is committed to bringing the bill forward again in 2020.

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