Consumer privacy push in Florida limps forward

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Big Data won a key concession from Florida lawmakers Tuesday when it persuaded a legislative committee to defang a proposal advertised by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a call to arms against tech giants’ unfettered powers to share and sell consumers’ personal information.

Intense lobbying from business advocates prompted lawmakers to strip away a provision that would have allowed consumers to sue for the unauthorized collection and sale of their personal data.

After winning that concession from the Senate Rules Committee, lobbyists for the business community then attempted to kill the bill in its entirety — arguing that the remaining provisions would still be too expensive and overly burdensome.ADVERTISEMENT

Nevertheless, the weakened measure limped out of its final Senate committee and could soon be headed to the full chamber for consideration.

Due to the rise of computers and the ubiquity of smartphones — as well as the emergence of technology that can seemingly track a person’s every move — consumer privacy has become a national concern. And with federal action moving glacially, Florida and other states have moved to address tech-related issues on their own.

A version in the Florida House retains, for now, a provision allowing individual consumers to sue and is awaiting a final committee hearing.

The House measure would require companies to divulge what data they are gathering, force them to delete it upon consumer request and prohibit them from sharing or selling it when told not to. They could be sued if they don’t comply.

The Senate version removed an individual’s right to sue, reserving legal action to the discretion of the state’s attorney general. It also redefined what kinds of businesses would have to comply with the proposed rules, designed to exclude smaller companies from the new rules.

“The landscape of the internet has changed considerably in a relatively short period of time, and the internet of today is a one-way street where the most intimate details of a consumer’s life, usually unbeknownst to the consumer, are monetized and sold to the highest bidder,” Sen. Jennifer Bradley, the Senate bill’s lead sponsor, told her fellow lawmakers.

DeSantis has made consumer data privacy one of his legislative priorities. It’s part a part of a two-pronged attack the Republican governor has launched against Big Tech. DeSantis is also backing proposals in the Republican-controlled Legislature that would go after social media companies and other platforms that he and other Republicans contend discriminate against conservatives

During a press conference in February, DeSantis assailed Big Tech companies for profiting from the troves of data they harvest from consumers.

Business advocacy groups, which have generally been friendly to Republicans, have come out against the proposal, saying it would spawn frivolous lawsuits if individual consumers were allowed to take legal action.

“The private rights of action allowing for statutory damages would create a cottage industry of plaintiffs lawyers filing gotcha lawsuits,” said Alfred Saikali, whose Miami law firm represents clients who could be held liable under the proposed rules.

Saikali lauded lawmakers for agreeing to remove a consumer’s right to sue, but later returned to address legislators as he sought to have the bill killed because of the cost.

“To comply with this law you’re going to have to purchase technology, you’re going to have to perform data inventories, you’re going to have to hire lawyers like myself,” he said, adding that processing consumer requests could require more costly staffing and training. “So you’re looking at at least hundreds of thousand of dollars each year for a business to comply.”

Other business advocates urged lawmakers to slow down so they can more fully consider the consequences to businesses.

But it remains uncertain how much it would cost for businesses to comply with the new rules if enacted.

Sen. Gary Farmer, the chamber’s Democratic leader, asserted that businesses have blown compliance issues “out of proportion.”

“Why is it such a bad thing that we as consumers get the option to opt out of sharing everything that’s in our phone?” Farmer asked. “The time has come to level the playing flied when it comes to our rights of privacy.”