Lawmakers in 16 states and the District of Columbia simultaneously introduced legislation meant to increase data privacy protections, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday
The campaign, orchestrated by the ACLU and the Tenth Amendment Center advocacy group, was an effort to “push forward a reform agenda” on privacy — an area where the federal government has failed to act, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, told reporters on a conference call.
“Congress is ground into a gridlock, and we still have not reformed any of the federal privacy laws that go back to the 1980s,” Romero said. “It’s salient that the states have stepped up to the plate and have taken the lead on addressing the privacy rights of their own residents.”
The language of the 30 introduced bills varies by state and covers a range of topics: student data privacy and information systems, employee data privacy and social media, location tracking, and personal data privacy.
Romero said the state lawmakers who introduced the privacy legislation are tapping into a movement sparked by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who in 2013 leaked classified documents revealing information on the agency’s surveillance program. Since Snowden brought the issue to the forefront, more Americans are clamoring for privacy reform, he said. Indeed, Pew Research Center reported in May 2015 that Americans “hold strong views about the importance of privacy” and that 88 percent said they do not wish to be observed without their approval.
“It’s been increasingly clear to us, and to anyone who is watching the public opinion polls, and even the political debates, that Americans care about protecting their privacy rights,” Romero said. Citizens want “to have stronger protections over their personal data, their student data, their employee data, efforts that track their location.”
The bills were introduced in legislatures in Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and the council of the District of Columbia, according to an interactive map from the ACLU. The organization said the campaign represents the efforts of a broad coalition of lawmakers and citizens.
“For us the lesson is if you want to get something accomplished politically on a national level, you’re often most effective by focusing your time and energy on a state level,” said Michael Boldin, executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, which works to promote states’ rights. “Folks from Tea Party Patriots to Occupy groups on a state and local level [have come together] to get this type of activism done and bills passed on a state and local level.”