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Seattle enacts new rules to protect online privacy

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

09 May 2017

In the wake of the FCC’s rollback of its broadband privacy rules, Seattle mayor Ed Murray has enacted his own rules to protect the online privacy of cable service users in the city.

Thanks to the new Seattle IT rule, cable companies in Seattle are now required to gain the consent of their users before selling or sharing their data, including that relating to web browsing history and personal information—except for when it’s necessary to maintain essential service.

Companies will also have to show how and why they need to aggregate or anonymize data. They have until September 30th to prove their compliance, and will have to continue proving this annually. If a resident of the city finds that their privacy has been violated by their cable provider, this new rule gives allows them to file a civil suit against that company.

In drawing up these rules, Murray has taken advantage of a municipal code giving the city some regulatory authority over cable companies. However, this move only applies to cable companies, not wireless internet providers—so for many of Seattle’s web users, these new rules will not be of help.

There’s no doubt that this move is in reaction to the FCC’s recent abandonment of its privacy rules. Ed Murray stated:

Where the Trump administration continues to roll back critical consumer protections, Seattle will act. I believe protecting the privacy of internet users is essential and this policy allows the City to do just that. Because of regulation repeals at the national level, we must use all of the powers at our disposal to protect the rights of our residents.”

While Seattle’s new rules are unlikely to affect the FCC’s policy decisions, this move has the potential to set a precedent of moving privacy legislation to a local level. If more cities follow Seattle’s lead, opt-in data sharing policies could become the new norm at a municipal level.

At the very least, it’s great to see some leaders standing up for the online rights of their citizens.

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