A possible walkout casualty: a privacy law for Oregonians

June 20, 2023 5:30 am

The walkout has ended but it still has robbed many bills of discussion needed to move them through the Legislature. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

While much Oregon statehouse attention has been focused in the last couple of months on a few issues, such as abortion and transgender concerns, which were central to the Senate strike, a lot of other complex issues didn’t get the kind of review they need to progress through the legislative process.

A good example is a measure intended to improve privacy rights for Oregonians. 

This issue is one most Oregonians are familiar with: their lack of control over the use of information traded, sold and sometimes stolen online. That concern is not partisan; people in both parties, and nationally, are concerned about it. 

We know it’s a top concern in Oregon. Legiscan, a website that tracks legislation from statehouses around the country, reported this week that the privacy bill, Senate Bill 619, was the most monitored and the second most viewed bill after House Bill 2002, a divisive proposal on abortion and gender-affirming care that partly prompted the walkout by Senate Republicans.

SB 619, which is crafted after a similar California statute, would change the law on how consumer data can be used and what consumers can do about it. It would provide ways for consumers to correct or opt out of data collection. 

It has generated testimony from two dozen sources, both individuals and organizations inside and outside the state, with support and opposition deeply split. 

It might yet pass. At this writing, it has been cleared for a floor vote, which could occur Tuesday. That still means it would need to pass through the House process, and the odds of that are not favorable, especially with so little time left in the session. 

The idea behind the bill – to give consumers more information about what personal data is collected and stored by large data-driven companies and how it is being used – could draw lots of support. It applies to “persons who, in a calendar year, control or process the data of 100,000 or more consumers or devices that link to one or more consumers, or 25,000 consumers if more than 25 percent of revenue is from selling personal data.” 

This is not a simple topic, and, as you might expect, the 21-page bill is complex too.

It has backing from the League of Women Voters of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, and a report from the state Department of Justice, which asked for the bill, was largely positive. Nationally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Consumer Reports have also lent support. All praised it as a move toward consumer protection.

The opposition was just about as widespread, in part from industry groups. Their testimony suggested they were not opposed to legislation to help consumer protection but were concerned about how it would apply to them. 

The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, for example, warned, “It is difficult, without more conversation and more intensive legal reviews, to juxtapose the well-intentioned policy behind SB 619 with the unique and constitutionally protected activities of newspapers. ONPA is concerned that SB 619, as presently drafted, may involve unintended consequences which conflict with free press guarantees. This is not a theoretical concern. The threat of lawsuits, which would be specifically permitted by SB 619’s enactment and its mandatory recovery of money damages, is by itself, a threat on newspaper operations.” 

Other industries, including banking and finance, have questions as well. 

The bill as crafted has become a compromise measure, but getting needed buy-in and legislative carve-outs have been a labor-intensive process in a time when when many lawmakers were boycotting the Senate floor. 

The bill hasn’t been rushed through the process. It has been the subject of hearings and, as noted, extensive testimony. The time and ability for senators on both sides of  the aisle to discuss and negotiate, however, mostly have been lacking this session. The bill has progressed to this point almost entirely owing to Democratic, not Republican, support. 

Issues like these are exactly the kind of concerns that need to be weighed and hashed out over time. 

Bills like this are what long legislative sessions, those held in odd-numbered years like this one. And they’re the first casualties of limited numbers of work days when legislative walkouts happen. 

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Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher, he lives in Carlton.