Fight for privacy of students, cellphone users moves to US states

New privacy legislation has been introduced in 16 states and the District of Columbia

The fight for privacy is moving to U.S. states with 16 states and the District of Columbia introducing legislation on Wednesday that address issues such as requiring permission before student data is shared for non-educational purposes and the requirement of warrants before using cell site simulators to track phone users.

“A bipartisan consensus on privacy rights is emerging, and now the states are taking collective action where Congress has been largely asleep at the switch,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which coordinated the initiative, in a statement.

It is also not known yet whether the next U.S. president will prioritize defending privacy to the extent it "deserves as a core American value," wrote Chad Marlow, ACLU's advocacy and policy counsel.

Legislators in the states of Minnesota, New York, New Mexico and Virginia have introduced bills that model California’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), a digital privacy law that prevents government access without warrant to private electronic communications, except in emergencies.

The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that was meant to protect electronic communications from government surveillance has not been updated to reflect new technologies, such as the holding of email or other documents by third parties in “the cloud,” wrote Jadzia Butler, privacy, surveillance and security fellow at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Legislation aimed to prohibit companies from demanding access except in exceptional circumstances to the social media accounts of current or prospective employees, or educational institutions  from demanding access to the social media accounts of students were also introduced in some states, as were bills that would require authorities to quickly delete data collected by automatic license-plate readers of people who were not suspected of any wrongdoing.

ACLU is also asking people to sign and join its campaign and take control of their data. It has set up a hashtag #TakeCTRL.

The states participating in the initiative are Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Some 100 million people live in these states.

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