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Closely watched California Internet privacy bill dies in final minutes of legislative session

September 18, 2017

California lawmakers on Saturday shelved a bill that would have required Internet service providers such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to get permission from customers before using, selling or allowing access to their browser history.

The legislation by Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) would have enshrined in state law some federal Internet privacy regulations that were rolled back this year by President Trump and Congress. The regulations limited what broadband providers can do with their customers’ data.

The defeat capped a behind-the-scenes battle that pitted telecom companies against state Internet service providers (ISPs) and brought other bills to a halt in the state Senate as negotiations unfolded over legislation that would have had national significance.

Most of the “California Privacy Act” would have codified the repealed restrictions crafted by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration.

But it also would have barred Internet service companies from refusing to provide service or limiting service if customers do not waive their privacy rights. And it would have prohibited them from offering customers discounts in exchange for waiving their privacy rights or charging customers a penalty for refusing to do so.

The bill had the support of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and smaller California ISPs. Opponents — which included tech giants like Google — argued it was being rushed through the legislative process.
For ISPs that are already complying with the former federal regulations, the bill would haven’t made much of a difference operationally, said Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in San Francisco. But the influence of the legislation could have been sweeping.

“California is a critical state because you are covering a large part of the nation just because of its population,” he said. “It sets the stage for other states to follow suit.”

For now, efforts to implement the rules could move to the ballot box. A ballot initiative proposed this month would give California consumers the right to know what personal information businesses are collecting, what they do with it and to whom they are selling it.

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