Democrats in the Senate will take another swing at passing legislation giving consumers more flexibility to opt out of online data tracking, picking up an effort which fell apart late in the session last year.
During a Thursday morning press conference outside the state Capitol building, lawmakers announced the basics of a revived data privacy bill. In broad strokes, the bill would limit the collection of user data by digital companies and establish a consumer’s right to view, delete and opt out of the collection of their personal information by online businesses.
Sen. James Maroney, a Milford Democrat who is co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted more of everyday life into the digital realm.
“Meetings with our friends and families over Zoom, ordering the majority of our shopping is now online,” Maroney said. “That’s why we feel this bill is more important than ever to protect people’s privacy. At its heart what this bill is is it establishes consumers rights and corporate responsibility.”
Connecticut is not alone in weighing the issue. States like California and Virginia have adopted their own models. Maroney told reporters that around 20 other states were debating this issue this year.
Proponents here worked a proposal through the legislative process last year, only to see it fail under the crush of a last-minute lobbying effort when the Senate passed a more aggressive version of the bill in a late session budget implementer.
Lawmakers in the House stripped the language from the bill before passing the implementer, saying it was not the proposal approved by the committee. Senate leaders bristled at the move and promised to return to the issue.
“There could’ve been some last minute lobbying,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said of last year’s controversy. “There could have been people who may not have quite understood all the provisions in the bill. We’ll chalk it up and start again and do more work to make sure people understand the importance of it.”
Much of the opposition to legislation hinges on anxiety that the provisions, designed as checks on big digital corporations, will catch smaller businesses in their nets.
“We don’t want to come off in the state of Connecticut as the anti technology business state,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. “I’m all for data privacy. We all can’t stand the spam that we get but there needs to be a balance… If you pass something so extreme that nobody can enforce it, then you’re not even serving the purpose you wanted to serve.”
Maroney said the bill would be enforced through Connecticut’s attorney general and was designed to avoid penalizing small businesses. In order to be subject to its provisions, a company would need to receive traffic or credit card transactions from at least 100,000 unique Connecticut customers.
“A lot of care has gone in to make sure that we’re not adversely impacting small businesses,” Maroney said. “But I think it is good for small businesses to think about data. I have a small business. I do most of the web stuff on my own but I need to make sure I’m protecting my customers.”
John Blair, associate counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he was optimistic that lawmakers and stakeholders could work together this year to craft a proposal that protected the rights of consumers without creating the exorbitant costs to businesses.
“The fear is that if it’s not done properly, it could end up being what has happened in other states,” Blair said. “That initial compliance has been through the roof from a cost perspective and then ongoing compliance with the law… But there’s ways to alleviate that by drafting it so it’s not so cumbersome on the compliance side.”
Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said retailers believed lawmakers had arrived at quality language last year before the late-session change.
“Through the committee process, I think we all thought we were in a good place with this bill and then some changes started to take place, which raised concerns,” Phelan said.
Phelan said retailers hoped lawmakers would pass a quality bill this year. However, he said details like when a new law becomes effective can have a big impact on the state’s retailers.
“Our industry is not opposed to passing a state-level privacy bill but there’s a big ‘but’ there,” he said. “There’s a lot of details that have to be looked at and examined and the push and pull that takes place, but in our industry those are really critical.”