State lawmakers unveil bipartisan privacy plan

State Rep. Peggy Scott is seeking an audit of data handling procedures at the Department of Commerce. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Republican and Democratic state lawmakers released a package of six data privacy measures Wednesday that they will introduce during the 2016 session.

The bipartisan bills would set new privacy protections in Minnesota for social media, email and student data. One of the proposals protects private electronic devices that students bring to school. Another deals with the data collected by third parties from school-issued devices.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said during a news conference that the bills will help raise public awareness about potential problems.

“Even though maybe we don’t have specific cases here in Minnesota, this is a preemptive strike,” Scott said. “We want to protect people now before they’re damaged by personal information getting out into the wrong hands.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing similar measures in more than a dozen states.

ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson said privacy is a fundamental right that needs ongoing protection.

“These bills will finally bring our laws up to date with current technology,” Samuelson said.

ACLU-MN sued the Minnewaska school district in 2012 for demanding a student's Facebook password. The district changed its policy as part of the settlement.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said the proposed legislation will empower people throughout the country to take control of their personal privacy and to push back against excessive incursions.

“It’s the wild west right now for data collection,” Lesch said. “You can nearly collect anything you want on anyone, unless the Legislature has expressly prohibited it.”

Minnesota privacy advocates are also expected to work on legislation this year dealing with drones and police body cameras.

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