The state of Maine takes a bold lead in protecting users’ privacy

The state of Maine takes a bold lead in protecting users’ privacy

Horace C. White 

Modern Tokyo Times

Maine Takes a Bold Step to Protect Internet Users

Internet users in the State of Maine, USA, have a reason to breathe a sigh of relief as their lawmakers have taken a bold step to protect their interests. In a unanimous vote of 35-0, the state senate passed a bill that would compel all internet service providers (ISPs) to end the era of indiscriminate sales of customers’ data to advertisers. Although the senate sent a strong-worded message to register their displeasure over the practice, the same cannot be said of state representatives. According to media reports, the representatives earlier voted 96-45 in favor of the same bill.

What Actually Happens?  

Before now, the state of about 1.3 million residents became commonplace for ISPs to rake in revenues from the sales of subscribers’ information to advertisers. More often than not, they collated users’ information, such as the geographical location, medical and financial information, as well as browser history. Afterward, users’ data was then sold to advertisers, who were willing to pay an undisclosed amount for the information.

Indeed, it is not uncommon to see ISPs give out the data of a user without deeming it fit to get their consent. Well, this usually happens in cases where the ISP is required to provide a particular service. Other instances are when they are mandated to comply with a court ruling, and when they advertise their products and/or services to customers.

What Does the Bill Stipulate?

No doubt, this new bill would go a long way toward ending the abuse of ISPs in Maine. Already signed into law by state governor Janet Mills on June 6, 2019, the bill stipulates far-reaching measures to halt the practice. A keen look at the bill shows that these service providers would have to disclose users’ information under certain conditions. In one of the clauses, it forbids ISPs from personalizing customer’s information without getting the owner’s consent. In another subsection, the bill prohibits ISPs from penalizing a customer because he/she refused to release their information to them. Still, the bill pointed out that it is wrong for a service provider to refuse its client service, or charge them a penalty for declining to release their personal information to the ISP.

On the other hand, the bill noted that there are instances when an ISP can disclose the geographical location of a customer without getting their consent. Such instances, the bill quips, are in emergency situations. It then explained that such information can be disclosed when the ISP is replying to an emergency responder, local authorities, and/or a recognized guardian.

Fates of Similar Bills

For those who are in the know, this is not the first time that lawmakers have made an attempt to pass such a bill in the United States. However, these bills never see the light of day. For example, in 2018, the state of California passed a similar bill. However, powerful ISPs have ganged together to ensure the bill would not pass. Today, the abnormal practice still holds sway in California it appears.

There have been growing concerns across the US over the indiscriminate use of data by ISPs. In support of the new bill, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Maine shed light on the use of customers’ data by the advertisers to discriminate against communities. By going ahead to sign the controversial bill, Governor Mills has again shown that the Mills’ administration prioritizes Mainers’ interests over powerful ISPs. Going forward, ISP-customer relationship on data use would change, thus making the subscribers more powerful in this regard, perhaps. The new bill, which would take effect on July 1, 2020, is expected to be challenged in the courts.

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