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Washington votes on March 10, along with six other states. Meanwhile, the Washington State Legislature is on the verge of passing a pair of bills, literally written by an Amazon lobbyist and a Microsoft employee, that sell out our privacy and our rights to exploitative tech companies.
It’s a perfect opportunity for Elizabeth Warren to highlight her plans to rein in big tech and fight corruption . And as last year’s successful battle by community and grassroots groups the previous (even worse) version of the privacy bill shows, this is an issue that people in Washington — like most other states — really care about.
Here’s a quick summary:
- SB 6281, the “Washington Privacy Act”, is basically window dressing — it doesn’t protect consumers or hold tech companies accountable.
- SB 6280 allows government use of facial recognition with no meaningful regulation, let alone the moratorium so many groups are asking for
Tech companies like these bills so much that Microsoft and Amazon are proposing them as models for other states. A post on Microsoft’s blog in January is a good example of how brazenly they’re spinning. For example, Microsoft talks about SB 6281’s “strong enforcement” — even though the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) had told the Senate that the bill they wound up passing was unenforceable. An amendment in the House has since fixed one of the problems the AGO identified, but the bill’s current text still includes what the AGO described as “broad exceptions that would permit industry to sidestep the very consumer rights and obligations created by this bill”.
There’s a lot more wrong with SB 6281; Flawed data-privacy bill does not protect consumers or hold companies accountable, by Jennifer Lee of ACLU Washington, Susan Grant of Consumer Federation of America, and Ed Mierzwinksi of WashPIRG goes into detail on some of the problems; A bad day for a bad privacy bill, a good day for privacy has a range of other perspectives. Similarly, there’s also a lot of problems with SB 6280. Tthe ACLU and King County Public Defenders have a solid brief on the legal issues, and my followon mail to the committee after last week’s hearing last week covers other aspects.
Of course the tech companies are making massive lobbying investements in these bills, but the coalition on the other side is broad and diverse. An early-February letter demanding a moratorium on facial recognition technology was signed by groups including CAIR Washington, Densho, Entre Hermanos, InterIm Community Development Association, Japanese American Citizens League Seattle Chapter, La Resistencia, MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network), Puget Sound Sage, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Washington Immigration Solidarity Network, and ACLU Washington. Many of these groups testified against 6281 in a pair of hearings last week, as did Black Lives Matter – Seattle King County and people (including me) representing several Indivisible groups.
There’s a floor vote on both bills in the House this week, and if they pass (as expected) they head back to the Senate. There’s still time to strengthen them; if not, then it will be another battle against the deep pockets of the tech industry. And other states are watching Washington, which is justifiably seen as a tech hub. So it’s the perfect time for an intervention.
Of course, there’s a lot going on for Warren right now. Is there time to reach senior levels of the campaign? It’s hard to know whether it’ll happen. But if it happens, and she decides to weigh-in, it’s a potential game-changer for Warren — in Washington and beyond.