AUGUSTA — A bill to prohibit Maine internet service providers from sharing or selling a customer’s online data without consent gained the support of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, will next move to the Senate for consideration.

Bellows said the bill fills an important gap in federal laws and regulations that allows private data to be sold or shared without a consumer’s knowledge.

Those voting in favor of the bill said it would better protect Mainers’ privacy, but Rep. Jeffery Hanley, R-Pittston – the only lawmaker to vote against the bill – said he would like to see Maine take a broader approach and suggested the state study the matter further before passing any new regulations on the industry.

Hanley said he liked the idea of the bill.

“Rather than make bad law today, I would rather study this for a few months and make a better law that is more comprehensive,” Hanley said. He said requiring just the ISP to protect privacy was like requiring a gatekeeper to protect privacy but then allowing any business beyond the gate to violate privacy. He suggested the bill should also be applied to companies like Google and Facebook, which also collect and broker in the private data of those who use their services.

Bellows said expanding the bill to include those services would likely see the the bill face legal challenges under federal law that prohibit states from regulating interstate commerce.

Hanley also said he would like to see language in the bill that would allow a customer to willingly sell their data to an internet service provider.

“In free enterprise, a customer could willingly offer to sell their information for a discount or a cash payment, if they wish and I think that should be part of the provision,” Hanley said.

But Bellows suggested a provision like that could lead to ISPs offering premium services for those who wanted protect privacy, essentially charging more to protect privacy and giving a discount to those who didn’t want it.

A similar bill, also offered by Bellows, failed in the state Senate in 2018 by a single vote.

 

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