An internet privacy measure that won broad backing from Minnesota lawmakers has been yanked from consideration at the Capitol with little explanation.
The provision had been crafted in response to a recent action by the U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump to loosen online privacy regulations, potentially opening the door for internet service providers to sell the browsing data of customers. It would have prohibited internet providers in Minnesota from collecting personal information without permission from customers.
The state Senate approved the measure by a 66-1 vote in March, attaching it to a broader spending bill covering state jobs, commerce and energy programs. The House also approved a similar measure as part of its own jobs budget bill.
But the chief Senate sponsor of the privacy provision, DFL Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, learned this week that it was stripped out as House and Senate negotiators met privately last weekend to finalize state spending bills that will be negotiated with Gov. Mark Dayton.
Latz accused Republicans of "thumbing their noses at the general public on an issue that the public is instinctively concerned about," suggesting it was a political risk for them to do so. He suggested that GOP leaders removed the provision under pressure from internet service providers.
That's not the case, said Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound. He's on the House-Senate conference committee that assembled the jobs, commerce and energy spending bill. Osmek said he and other committee members are listening to input from both businesses and individual Minnesotans, and that the provision's removal was "not under any pressure from any source."
He also said it's not a final decision.
"Internet privacy provisions are a work in progress," Osmek said. "The House and Senate language needs to be reconciled and we will continue to work on it through the rest of this session."
The two Republicans chairing the conference committee for the jobs bill, Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, did not return calls seeking more information on the removal of the privacy language. The Legislature adjourns on May 22.
Minnesota is one of 10 states that acted to tighten internet privacy rules after Trump signed the law allowing internet companies to collect browsing data without customers' consent. The new law erased new internet privacy protections, dating from the Obama administration, that were to take effect this December. They would have limited the ability of broadband and wireless companies to sell customer information including browsing habits, location information and app usage history to advertisers or third parties.
Companies including Comcast and AT&T have pledged to keep customers' personal information safe but stopped short of promising not to sell browsing histories and similar details.
Latz said his office heard from state legislators from other parts of the country who were interested in learning about the measure he drafted.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is co-sponsoring a bill that would put data privacy protections back in place.
Latz said he believes the privacy issue will continue to be a priority for Minnesotans. He urged voters to contact state lawmakers to share their thoughts.
"It really touched a nerve," Latz said.