Data privacy regulations fail in Washington state legislature

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A bill that would have enacted data privacy regulations in Washington state failed to pass the state legislature before the session ended Thursday. The bill sought to have the state follow the lead of the European Union and California, the first major governments to grant consumers broad rights for privacy online.

The data privacy bill passed the state Senate, as did a similar one during the last legislative session. But both bills died in the House, due in part to a debate over whether individuals should be allowed to sue tech companies for violating their privacy rights.

“The impasse remains a question of enforcement,” said state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “As a tech entrepreneur who has worked in multiple startup companies, and in the absence of any compelling data suggesting otherwise, I continue to believe that strong attorney general enforcement to identify patterns of abuse among companies and industries is the most responsible policy and a more effective model than the House proposal to allow direct individual legal action against companies.”

Washington State Sen. Reuven Carlyle. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Microsoft was a key backer of the legislation, support that rankled some lawmakers. Rep. Norma Smith called the bill “corporate-centric, not consumer focused,” in a statement.

“I want to thank the advocates from all over the state who rallied to provide consumers a meaningful voice in this debate,” Smith said. “I know with their help — working together with industry — a better bill can be brought forward in 2021 that will truly empower consumers in a big data economy.”

The Washington Privacy Act, as it was known, aimed to give consumers new rights to ownership over their data and establish new transparency requirements for companies that process consumer data. Consumers would have been granted the right to access, delete, correct, and move their data, or opt-out of data collection. The bill shared principles with the European Union’s GDPR and CCPA in California.

The bill also included regulations for facial recognition technology, including a rule that would require companies to allow third-party testing for accuracy and bias.

A separate bill that establishes new regulations for government entities using facial recognition technology did pass out of the state legislature before the session ended. That legislation awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

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