Seeking compromise on data privacy, Dems found controversy

Microsoft, Amazon and Comcast got invited to to help craft language but consumer groups did not

  • Friday, April 19, 2019 10:59am
  • Opinion

One of the most intriguing dramas at this point in the legislative session revolves around a bill putting new rules in place regarding data privacy and facial recognition technology.

And the intrigue deepened Wednesday when state Senate Bill 5376 failed to receive a vote in the House by a 5 p.m. deadline for action on non-budget policy bills.

“It’s dead. It’s really tragic after about a year of work on this,” said Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, a co-sponsor. “We would have been leaders if we had adopted this. This is a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.”

Maybe it’s not dead dead. Powerful voices in the Legislature and influential forces outside Olympia want it and that can often be enough to keep it alive until lawmakers adjourn.

“We didn’t find agreement. It didn’t come up for a vote. It seems dead,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, Tukwila, who was among many in the House Democratic Caucus unimpressed by what the Senate sent them.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, attempted to set clear ground rules for the collection, sorting, using, and selling of personal information. In its original form, the 25-page bill also contained regulations for use of facial recognition software by law enforcement and other public agencies.

Carlyle pieced together elements of data privacy laws from Europe and California into something he hoped would protect the interests of Washington residents without hamstringing corporations’ ability to use the information.

The bill sailed through the Senate on a 46-1 vote in early March — then hit a wall in the House it could not scale. Many Democrats and Republicans didn’t feel the protections for residents were strong enough and worried businesses could break rules without facing serious punishment. And facial recognition was a nonstarter for many in the House Democratic Caucus..

But SB 5376 survived an April 9 deadline for action in the House budget committee because Democratic leaders did something unusual. They stripped out all of its content and replaced it with a long opening paragraph espousing a whole bunch of good intentions on how the state really wants to make sure corporations don’t abuse the private information of consumers they collect.

At that point, Democratic leaders sought help from a few select forces in the high-tech world who knew how data gathering and facial recognition software worked and how to keep misuse in check. They’re also the ones that need consumer information for their bottom lines.

They sat them down with a hand-picked crew of lawmakers to work on language that might pass in both chambers.

The move quickly blew up into a political poop storm as word got out about who was invited to the closed-door negotiations and who wasn’t.

Microsoft, Amazon, Comcast and the Association of Washington Businesses had seats at the table with the seven legislators — four House Democrats, two Senate Democrats (including the bill’s sponsor) and one House Republican.

No Senate Republican received an invite. Neither did any representatives of the consumer, technology, civil rights, law enforcement or legal organizations which had opposed the bill passed by the Senate and much of a reworked version in the House technology committee.

To critics, this looked pretty much like the regulated writing the regulations.

Shankar Narayan, technology and liberty project director for the ACLU, issued a blunt statement April 10 when the confab held its first meeting.

“With this move, tech corporations have made it clear that they will seize the opportunity to regulate their own business as loosely as possible, by willfully neglecting to include impacted communities in the discussion,” he said. “The Legislature should halt this broken process and come back in the interim to have a real stakeholder conversation.”

The chosen ones met five times in three days, with the last session occurring April 12. They stopped meeting no doubt in part because one participant, Hudgins, kept informing dozens of interested people about the progress, even sending out copies of language under discussion. Carlyle wasn’t amused.

Conversations happened in smaller groups ahead of Wednesday’s critical deadline.

On Monday, the legislative director for Gov. Jay Inslee wrote a rough draft of language based on what he heard while facilitating those earlier meetings.

On Tuesday, Hudgins put out a version that could be the one voted on in the House.

But nothing ever reached the floor. With less than two weeks to go in the session, there’s time for twists in this drama.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

More in Opinion

Does Sound Transit realize the consequences of this do-over?

Pass or fail, Initiative 976 is a reminder of what critics most dislike about the regional agency

Impeachment likely, removal not: President Pelosi?

Democratics are likely to impeach Trump, but Republicans are unlikely to convict him at trial.

A look at the races for the state’s 9 top jobs

Nine of the most powerful political jobs in Washington state will be… Continue reading

Amateurism must be maintained to preserve education-based sports

While we addressed a number of important issues with our member state… Continue reading

Turn america’s innovators lose on greenhouse gases

Assuming that reducing greenhouse gases are an ongoing challenge, we need government… Continue reading

King County Library System explores the artificial intelligence frontier

If asked for a show of hands in tech-savvy King County, many… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars

Give parents an Education Savings Account with $10,000 so children can learn phonics

By Liv Finne, Washington Policy Center, for the Auburn Reporter Teachers are… Continue reading

This political break-up couldn’t come at a worse time

As backers of I-1000 gear up, a legal spat involving others is casting a shadow on their efforts.

High school football is thriving, not dying

By Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director When the annual High School… Continue reading

Sen. Mona Das. COURESY PHOTO
After a senator’s claim is debunked, a call for an apology

The GOP wants a Democratic senator held to account for accusations which an investigation found to be false

Mitsubishi launching into regional jet space

Traditionally, media coverage of the Paris Air Show focuses on the battle… Continue reading