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Data privacy redux? House, Senate stake familiar positions on suing tech companies

House Speaker Chris Sprowls appears unwilling to bend on giving Florida consumers more control over their private information, allowing them to sue companies that sell their information without consent.

And his counterpart, Senate President Wilton Simpson, appears equally unlikely to change his mind that civil enforcement is not the proper solution for aggrieved consumers whose data has been sold.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave support to increasing data privacy in his State of the State address but where the Governor stands on the lawsuit issue is unclear. DeSantis sided with Simpson and the Senate on the issue last year despite appearing at a news conference with Sprowls when the bill was unveiled.

The disparate positions all but guarantee that HB 9 will be one of the more divisive (and heavily lobbied) bills in the next 58 days. Within one day of the bill’s filing in the House, representatives of 56 different companies had registered to lobby on their behalf.

In separate news conferences this week, Sprowls and Simpson discussed consumer protections in the e-commerce age and the consequences for companies that violate the law.

“What we don’t want to do is pass a bill that makes it seem like people’s data is protected when it’s not,” Sprowls told reporters. “Nobody wants to do that. I’m not doing that.”

During the 2021 Session, when most of the public was prevented from entering the Capitol, more than 340 lobbyists worked on data privacy, including companies like Apple, AT&T, Target, Capital One Services, Quicken Loans, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Knowing the issue was “left at the doorstep,” the groups that lobbied the Governor’s Office and the Florida Senate, including Associated Industries of Florida and NFIB Florida, co-hosted a three and a half hour meeting on the data privacy issue this summer in Orlando.

According to a recent Pew Research Study, 85% of Americans say they go online daily. Of those daily internet users, 31% reported almost constantly, 48% reported they went online several times a day. The study also showed that 40% of adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more say they use the internet almost constantly. Not surprisingly, e-commerce, or buying and selling over the internet, has exploded.

But there is no federal law governing internet users’ privacy information. Companies harvest personal information about how people conduct their day-to-day lives — selling the information in what has become a lucrative marketplace.

Sprowls was openly skeptical about the pushback from technology and business interests.

“I haven’t had one person admit to me that they’ve actually sold people’s data. And yet we know it’s like a multibillion industry. But apparently, nobody’s doing it because nobody will at least admit to it.”

Rep. Fiona McFarland filed HB 9 Tuesday. The bill tracks the legislation filed in the House last year and requires certain businesses to publish privacy policies and tell consumers if asked what data they have on them, how they got it, and how they use it. Consumers could ask the businesses to have the information deleted or corrected. Consumers also would be given the right to opt-out of having their data sold or shared. Companies that sell that data without consumers’ approval could be subject to litigation.

Instead of subjecting the tech sector to lawsuits, the Florida Senate wants the state Attorney General to file lawsuits. But Sprowls said the Senate alternatives don’t go far enough to protect data.

“Some of the ideas that were floating out there, in our view, didn’t have the kind of teeth to seem that we were really doing something for Floridians,” Sprowls said of the Senate’s proposal from last year sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley.

Bradley filed the 2022 version of the bill SB 1864. It was referred Tuesday to the Senate Commerce and Tourism, Regulated Industries and Rules committees.

Simpson said he agrees that lawmakers should pass a data privacy bill. But he said: “In the Florida Senate, it’s very tough to get a cause of action through the process.”

When asked whether he would be willing to support a bill with civil enforcement, Simpson said, “not likely.”

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