Here's how 2 sentences could guard Minnesotans' internet privacy

Internet routing equipment
All internet traffic from wired or wireless ISPs could be collected and resold, but some ISPs pledge not to.
John W. Adkisson | Getty Images file

A tiny amendment to the Minnesota Senate's jobs bill aims to combat Congress' controversial decision to roll back a key regulation on internet service providers.

Both the U.S. House and Senate have voted to nix a rule that would've forced ISPs such as Comcast and CenturyLink to get an OK from consumers before selling their data.

If, as expected, President Trump signs the measure, ISPs will be allowed to sell the massive data sets they collect on consumers. That information can include what you search for, read or download — pretty much anything you do online.

Tucked inside the current iteration of the Minnesota Senate's jobs bill is a form of recourse against this — a two-sentence amendment that would block ISPs or telecom companies from collecting user data unless the consumer opts in to allow it.

At a time when the Republican-led Congress is stripping regulations in several areas, some states are pushing back — especially with internet privacy.

What would the Minnesota proposal do?

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, says that ISPs with agreements to operate in Minnesota may not collect user data without "express written approval" from each customer.

Federal law doesn't apply to this measure, he said, and it would give Minnesotans a legal path to protect their privacy.

"I think there's an overwhelming recognition that in the days of the internet, and widespread accessibility to data and information and the ability to spread it and sell it around quite easily, that we need to take steps to protect our own privacy," Latz said.

Latz's plan essentially puts in place a local version of the regulation Congress overturned.

Companies like Facebook and Google collect information all the time to sell advertisements. How is what ISPs are doing any different?

The argument from Latz and others is about choice.

You can pick your social network or search engine. But often, there are very limited options for ISPs in any given region.

The ISPs have argued that their stricter rules have put them in a tough place compared to the Facebooks and Googles of the web, which are regulated differently.

There's a lot of talk about VPNs for security. Do I need one?

A VPN, or virtual private network, can potentially solve a bunch of privacy problems, but it is no guarantee. According to The Verge, getting one is just transferring your trust from an ISP to a VPN provider.

And just who is trustworthy? Well, that is complicated. Last year Ars Technica examined the risks, benefits and options for VPNs and found very few concrete answers.

MPR News political editor Michael Mulcahy contributed to this story.

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