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Strengthened Washington Privacy Act Shows Potential to Compromise

Revised bill protects teens, places limits on surveillance advertising, and includes important enforcement improvements

Last week, the Washington House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee took a big step toward providing new online and offline privacy rights to Washingtonians, ensuring better data security, and placing limitations on how businesses can share and sell sensitive information about us.

Common Sense has been actively working with lawmakers and other voices in Washington, and our advocacy efforts have focused on three key things. We want any proposal to:

  • Include extra protections for kids and teens.
  • Limit the ability of advertisers and data brokers to circumvent the law.
  • Have real enforcement teeth.

The latest version of the bill in the Washington House meets these requirements.

Furthermore, the draft addresses many of the concerns Common Sense highlighted when lawmakers in Virginia raced to enact a weaker proposal just a few weeks ago. It's important to understand that lawmakers in blue states, red states, and purple states are sincerely interested in protecting families' privacy. National lawmakers are also busy working to fix our outdated digital privacy laws.

Against this backdrop, lawmakers face a concerted effort by tech companies to fight tooth and nail to defeat anything that actually changes their exploitative privacy-invading business practices. Common Sense saw firsthand how companies found ways to sneak around and slip away from regulations following California's landmark privacy law. Virginia's effort is, in many ways, a reaction to California's landmark law, but we need states to do more than pass the bare minimum.

The Washington Privacy Act is an important step forward. The proposal before lawmakers in Olympia may well be the most carefully deliberated state privacy law in the country. This year marks its third iteration, and privacy advocates, consumer voices, and even companies will admit the bill has come a long way since its initial introduction in 2019.

Over the past few years, Common Sense has been happy to work on a stronger bill with lawmakers like Washington State representative Drew Hansen, who has worked to bolster key provisions in the bill. We also applaud the time and energy that state senator Reuven Carlyle, the Washington Privacy Act's initial sponsor, has spent on the bill, even when we have disagreed on substance.

Now we hope the Washington House and Senate can move forward with the current version of the bill, which includes important restrictions on how companies can collect our data (including that of vulnerable children and teens), offers meaningful control over how information is shared and sold, and presents some real mechanisms to hold companies accountable if they let us down.

Joe Jerome
Joseph Jerome serves as Director, Platform Accountability and State Advocacy at Common Sense Media, where he focuses on common sense legislative and policy solutions that support kids’ digital well-being. Joseph has worked at the intersection of law and technology, and has written about AR/VR, the privacy implications of big data, data portability policy, trust deficits in the online sharing economy, and emerging technologies in video games. Previously, he was part of the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, an associate in the cybersecurity and privacy practice at WilmerHale, and counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum. He was a fellow with the Internet Law & Policy Foundry and has taught courses on cybersecurity and privacy compliance. Joseph has a J.D. from the New York University School of Law, where he was an International Law and Human Rights Student Fellow.