By Daniel Menefee
Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis get another bite at the apple to pass an Internet privacy law before the 2017 session ends next Monday.
In a party-line vote on Tuesday the Senate voted, 33-14,to suspend the rules and approve introduction of a late bill, Internet Consumer Privacy Rights Act of 2017. Republicans in the House of Delegates had blocked a similar measure on Monday.
The bill is in response to the recent repeal in Congress of Obama-era FCC privacy rules. President Trump signed the repeal late Monday. The repeal also prohibits the FCC from introducing similar privacy measures in the future.
The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, would restore the rules at the state level and prohibit ISPs from collecting and selling an Internet user’s personal information without explicit consent. The FCC issued the rules in October but they had yet to take effect.
“This is really an emergency,” Rosapepe said when introducing the late bill, SB1200. “Last night President Trump signed legislation repealing the FCC’s Internet privacy rules. Those rules barred Internet service providers from selling your personal information.”
“This bill simply takes those [Obama] rules and puts them into state law,” Rosapepe said. He said bills were moving in Minnesota and other states along the same lines in response to the repeal.
Blocked in the House
Rosapepe introduced the emergency bill after Republicans in the House of Delegates found enough votes on Monday to block a similar bill offered by House Majority Leader Bill Frick, a Democrat.
Frick needed 94 votes in the 141-seat chamber to introduce the bill — because it came within 35-days of the end of session. But the vote failed 90-45 strictly along party lines.
If the bill clears the Senate it will likely go to the House Rules Committee and then be referred to the Economic Matters Committee. Passage would appear likely if it hits the House floor before Monday at midnight when the 90-day session must legally end. At that point only 71 votes would be needed for passage.
27 Democratic co-sponsors
The Senate Finance Committee will take up Rosapepe’s bill Wednesday. It has 27 Democratic co-sponsors, including the committee chair, Thomas “Mac” Middleton.
While repeal has alarmed Internet privacy advocates, major ISPs and telecoms like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon say the repeal levels the playing field with major search engines and content providers like Google and Yahoo, which already collect and share personal information.
Senate Minority Leader J.B Jennings objected to the late filing and said the purpose of the repeal was not as portrayed in news reports.
He said major search engines already collect Internet user’s date and repeal of the Obama rule was an attempt to level the playing field for ISPs.
“If you think your Internet information is not being sold already, it is,” Jennings said. “Every search engine you go to and everything you type is being sold to other companies.”
“There is a disparity and what they’re trying to do on the federal side is bring [ISPs and search engines] into balance.” He said. He said any bill being considered this late should include a prohibition against search engines collecting and selling personal data.
Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, countered Jennings, saying that there was a major difference between ISPs and search engines. He said people who pay for Internet service should not have their data sold.
“Search engines are free,” Feldman said in support of Rosapepe’s bill. “That’s a huge distinction [and] these are not equal players.”
Frisk said he was hopeful that enough time remained to pass the bill and lauded the Senate’s efforts to move the bill.
“I’m glad the Senate had the courage to take up this very important issue,” Frick said.