MADISON — To protect your family, would you lock the back door of your house but leave the front door unlocked? The Maine Legislature is about to do just that by passing an online privacy bill that covers only internet service providers like Bee Line, while leaving websites, social media, search engines and data brokers exempt. L.D. 946 will give consumers a false impression that they are protected online, while actually leaving their data and privacy very much at risk.

Like many who work in our industry, I worry that the Maine Legislature’s well-intentioned attempt to protect our privacy online could backfire. Lawmakers deserve credit for this initiative, since an internet privacy bill is something that Maine needs to get right and see through. Unfortunately, L.D. 946 misses the mark, and it needs significant revision to provide Mainers with comprehensive privacy protections of their personal data irrespective of where they go on the internet.

At Bee Line Cable, we are happy to play by the rules and we take great pride in providing a reliable broadband solution for many Maine residents. We serve customers all over central Maine, from Wilton to Millinocket. We care about our employees and we care about our customers. That’s why we want their personal information protected not only when they are using our internet service, but also when they are engaged in any activity online.

It’s almost impossible to live in 2019 without the internet. It’s how we shop, bank, engage government, consume entertainment and communicate. History shows us that regulation usually lags behind technological advancement, which provides a window for opportunists to exploit the well-intentioned. In this case, the opportunists are alarmingly as powerful as they are dangerous.

If small internet service providers like mine are expected – and willing – to provide our customers with stronger privacy protections, why aren’t larger companies being held to the same standards? The internet is a maze of vulnerable corners where consumer data are at risk for exploitation. When it comes to privacy infringement, Silicon Valley giants including social media platforms, search engines and third-party data brokers have been the subjects of scandal after scandal. As profits gained from selling consumer data only continue to rise, these scandals show no sign of slowing down.

In spite of this, I remain optimistic that we can find relief from the privacy issues looming over consumers’ daily lives online. Our local political leaders here in Maine have shown courage to raise this issue, and now it’s time to dig in and pass comprehensive privacy protections.

Mainers deserve complete online privacy protection laws that are simple, uniform and applicable across the entire internet ecosystem. While seeking such solutions, it’s important for our legislators to avoid the temptation of a patchwork approach like L.D. 946 that will only create more complexity without adding any real consumer protections. This bill places the burden on consumers to navigate data and privacy use agreements in order to understand where they are protected – a heavy and unfair responsibility.

The best solution still calls for a single national framework that enforces rules across the entire internet ecosystem to ensure true data protection for consumers.

L.D. 946 has made it out of committee and is now heading to the Senate chamber for consideration, and diverse ranks of Mainers are actively speaking up and asking lawmakers to go back to the drawing board. From the Maine Chamber of Commerce protesting the effects of the bill on small businesses to everyday Mainers fighting for transparency, the voice for online privacy is getting louder.

Maine must not let tech giants play by their own privacy rules. Stand up and contact your state senator and Gov. Mills and tell them to vote “no” on L.D. 946. Mainers can do better than watered-down privacy legislation.

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