Internet privacy measure dies at Capitol

Internet privacy was a popular idea earlier in the Minnesota legislative session -- getting 200 of the 201 votes in previous votes in both the House and Senate.

Lawmakers didn't want internet service providers to be able to sell information about their customers' web browsing history.

But that provision didn’t make the final cut in the final jobs budget bill hammered out in the early hours Monday morning at the Capitol.

“There’s nothing in existing law that would prohibit an internet service provider from refusing access to the internet, refusing to provide service to a customer that declines to give them permission to collect and sell their private information,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL, St. Louis Park, during the Senate debate on the bill’s conference committee agreement.

It was a key sticking point for Democrats Monday morning, as both the Senate and House debated the final form of the jobs and energy bill that was subject of an overnight conference committee. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 46-20, and later the House passed it 87-43.

The internet privacy protections had been stripped out of the final agreement as the bill was wrapped up around 2 a.m. Monday.

The bill is on its way to Gov. Mark Dayton, who was involved with Republican leaders in the negotiations, but has not said publicly whether he will sign it.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, urged Dayton to veto the bill.

“The lobbyists for the big telecommunications companies, the big internet service providers, they said to the Republican leadership, they said to the folks on your side of the aisle, we won’t take that, even though your constituents want it, we won’t accept it,” said Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsored the original internet privacy measure.

Republicans defended the omission.

“The law is not keeping up with technology,” said Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, who said Republicans couldn’t support Thissen's original language, despite their previous votes for Internet privacy. “It needs more work. We don’t want to rush into this. It’s something we can’t rush into and we want to make sure it covers all areas of digital privacy.”

Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, agreed the Legislature needs more time to consider the issue. “This is such a wide ranging and complicated issue, that we just need some more work folks. That’s all.”

The move comes a month after President Donald Trump signed legislation rolling back internet privacy protections at the federal level.

The Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration had previously proposed a ban on internet service providers, like Comcast or Verizon, from collecting, storing sharing and selling data on customer information without permission. Those rules were to take effect later this year, but Internet companies will now be allowed to watch and monetize where their customers go online under federal law.

Mahoney said a proposed state privacy provision may be the last hope in Minnesota.

“It says you can’t sell my information for profit unless I give permission. Period. Not hard, pretty simple, easy to understand. And in the atmosphere in D.C. right now, unless we have something in position, we won’t have a position. We will be overruled by the Feds… Unless we do it today, unless we do it this week, the feds will allow all our information to be sold.”

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