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Oklahoma Lawmakers Introduce Computer Data Privacy Act

The bipartisan proposal would require tech companies to obtain explicit permission to collect and sell personal data of citizens. The legislation is similar to proposals underway in other parts of the country.

(TNS) — Oklahoma lawmakers have filed a bill to give citizens more online privacy, and it has already garnered bipartisan support in the state House of Representatives.

Authored by Rep. Josh West, R-Grove; and Rep. Collin Walke, D-OKC; the Oklahoma Computer Data Privacy Act would require Internet tech companies to obtain explicit permission to collect and sell personal data. With increasing concern over dataveillance and what companies do with information users provide — knowingly or unknowingly — several states are mulling such legislation.

"For far too long, we have pretended the data that technology companies collect from us is harmless," West said. "Over the past several years, we have seen how our data can be used by tech companies to manipulate ourselves and others. That doesn't even take into consideration the fact that these companies are free to sell our information to whomever they choose. I believe in the beneficial uses of technology and that there are many positive aspects to our interconnected networks. But we must realize when the services are free, we become the product."

Companies store copious amounts of personal data, so those with a greater dependency on advertising revenue tend to collect and store more of it. The information people release on social media platforms and search engines is often shared with advertisers so they can tailor their pitch to individual users.

Rep. West said Americans, historically, have had concerns about the extent of surveillance by the government, which is why the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution exists. It gives people the right to be secure in their own homes and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

"Since development of the Internet, we have been willingly providing much more intimate information to tech companies whose sole motive is profit," said West. "The fruits of data harvesting and data manipulation are plainly visible and lead only toward a dystopian future in which nothing we say or do is private."

Several years ago, researchers rebuked a Facebook experiment that manipulated news feeds to gage whether the platform could impact users' emotions. Then, the company was wrapped up in a scandal with Cambridge Analytica, a strategic communication firm, wherein the data of millions of people was used to create psychological profiles for the purpose of political advertising.

With millions of people providing personal information to tech companies, that data is worth a lot of money to certain businesses. Data brokers -companies that collect information to re-sell to other companies for marketing purposes — try collecting as much information about individuals as possible. The data brokering industry is considered to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, thinks legislation to require consent to store and sell private information is a good idea.

"Data is both useful and valuable and firms have been making plenty of cash from selling it," he said. "It's time for people to become aware of the privacy and compensation issues surrounding data privacy, and be in a position to regulate, give consent and bargain."

The legislation would be one of the first "opt-in" data privacy bills in the U.S. California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018, with the intention of providing residents with the right to know what personal data is being collected and to be able to prevent the sale of their information.

The cost of expanding data management systems could deter tech companies from implementing change, and startup companies could have a harder time investing enough to comply with regulations. But while there is likely to be adverse interests opposing the legislation, it's one that could likely receive support from both sides of the aisle.

State Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah, compared it to a bill he filed this year that would prohibit the sharing of immunization records or other data without consent.

"I'm all about privacy," said Stephens. "That's one of the bills I'm running on vaccines. That's a personal choice in terms of where your information goes and who gets it, and if you want it stricken from the record, you should have the ability to do so."

After speaking with West about the legislation on Friday, Stephens said State Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, would be running it in the Senate, and he plans to help co-author it.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, doesn't think it's right for companies to sell personal information without consent, but wonders whether legislation from federal officials will be needed to curb the problem.

"If they're going to sell my personal data, I should have the right to say yes or no — and not just because I clicked on your website and purchased something that now, you can take my personal information and share it with other companies," he said. "My concern is how much control can we have at the local level. A lot of this stuff is [Federal Communications Commission] regulated. It's like all of those robocalls. We can't, at the state level, do anything about robocalls. The federal government has worked on it before, but for some reason can't seem to get any legislation passed that stops all of those."

State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah; Cherokee County Republican Party Chair Josh Owen; and County Libertarian Party Chair Shannon Grimes, did not return inquiries by press time.

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