Capitol Notes

Digital privacy advocate urges lawmakers reject measure in Cuomo’s budget

Language in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget that is touted as a way to give New Yorkers “control over their personal data and provide new privacy protections” is not all it’s cracked up to be, according to a digital privacy advocate.

New York Civil Liberties Union policy counsel Allie Bohm told The Capitol Pressroom that New Yorkers would be better off if the measure from the governor, which she described as an “industry bill,” was rejected by state lawmakers.

“Privacy legislation is extraordinarily complex and hard to get right, and we will likely have one bite at the apple, so we need to be sure we are getting it right this time,” Bohm said.

The entire interview is available below.

According to the governor’s budget memorandum, his proposal would mandate new disclosure of information, protect sensitive health and location data, create a new enforcement mechanism, enact a Consumer Data Privacy Bill of Rights and establish a Consumer Data Privacy Advisory Board.

Bohm said the governor’s initiative could make a difference if meaningful regulations are crafted during a future rule making process, but she was largely underwhelmed by the proposal, which she felt did very little of what it claimed to accomplish and had a limited scope.

“In some cases, I think it actually gives companies a free pass to abuse individuals’ personal information,” she said.

A spokesman for Cuomo’s budget division said: “New York State’s proposal, in conjunction with California’s similar recent actions, will result in market-changing digital privacy protections that will drive reform nationwide. Given the complexity of the issue and its constant evolution, the proposal in the Executive Budget empowers regulators to develop and implement rules that will maximize these protections.”

Asked whether the language in the budget potentially represented a compromise between internet companies and consumer interests, Bohm said, “When it comes to the governor’s proposal, I suspect it’s written by the internet companies, and I don’t see it as a compromise, I actually see it as a gift to industry.”

The Internet Association, which represents online companies, including giants including Amazon and Google, is still reviewing the governor’s proposal, according to John Olsen, the organization’s director of state government affairs for the Northeast region.

“The Association did not help craft this language, but it is engaged with the Governor’s office on the bill,” Olsen said in a statement. “IA has significant concerns with comprehensive privacy law being inserted into the New York budget process and would recommend a more thoughtful approach that involves greater legislative and public input.”

An alternative to the governor’s proposal exists in the “New York Privacy Act” proposed by Democratic state lawmakers Kevin Thomas and Linda Rosenthal. Bohm said this legislation “actually makes an attempt to be a real privacy bill,” which makes it a better starting point for achieving meaningful digital privacy than the Cuomo plan.

“In our ideal world, the place to start is actually not just focusing on privacy as an end, in and of itself, but rather thinking  that privacy can’t be divorced from the tangible harms that arise from the misuse and abuse of personal information in the digital age, and the most pernicious of those harms is the circumvention of our civil and human rights law,” she said. “And so we would like to see the conversation about privacy start by addressing both the civil liberties and civil rights concerns associated with privacy, in the same bill.”

The “New York Privacy Act” is vehemently opposed by the Internet Association, which has previously warned that the bill would negatively impact the online experience of New Yorkers, bankrupt businesses and do little to protect personal information.

The Capitol Pressroom · Cuomo’s data protection plan misses the mark, privacy advocate warns
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