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Controversial data privacy bill dies in Olympia

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A controversial bill related to data privacy and facial recognition technology failed to make a key deadline in the Washington State Legislature Wednesday, and at least for now, is dead.

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In theory, the bill proposed to allow people to contact companies and ask what information they have on them. People could then ask the company to delete such data.

But it’s not so simple according to the ACLU, which argued that the state bill was not what it seemed.

“Unfortunately, the reality and the marketing around this bill are two very different things,” claimed Shankar Narayan, technology and liberty project director with the ACLU.

At one point during the amendment process for the bill, Microsoft, Amazon, Comcast, and the Association of Washington Businesses sat down with a handful of lawmakers behind closed doors, reportedly to cobble together a version of the bill that would be palatable in both the House and Senate.

That in turn led to claims from the ACLU that tech companies were being permitted to draft the very legislation that was meant to curtail their ability to collect consumer data.

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

The bill also carried a measure that allowed facial recognition technology in any public place, provided a placard denotes that the technology is in use. Essentially, walking into a space or building with that placard would have been akin to giving consent to the technology’s use.

According to a report from the Everett Herald, that was a “nonstarter” for many in the House Democratic Caucus.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle.

“We built alignment that well-crafted, strong #dataprivacy is imperative to consumers and society,” he Tweeted out Wednesday, shortly after the House failed to pass the legislation.

Back when it passed through the state Senate by a 46-1 margin, Carlyle argued that the bill was a necessity for bringing the state’s privacy laws up to date.

“This bill carefully, responsibly takes the best practices from Europe, California and other states to build a data privacy regulatory framework that will help set a standard and lead the nation in bringing our data privacy laws into the 21st century,” he said in a March news release.

Others had argued that it didn’t go far enough in protecting the data of Washington’s consumers.

Carlyle noted Wednesday that he and fellow sponsors of the bill remain “committed” to pushing forward on it again in the 2020 legislative session.

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