Two Pennsylvania legislators this week proposed a law to protect consumers’ data from merchants who collect such information. 

Authored by State Senators Maria Collett (D-North Wales) and Lisa Boscola (D-Bethlehem), the bill would ensure Pennsylvania consumers are informed about what personal information businesses collect. The policy would also require disclosure of any entities to whom the data is being sold and allow customers to decline to have any of their information trafficked or utilized for profit. Selling the data of consumers under the age of 16 would be prohibited outright. 

Under the measure, businesses would have no right to deny service to Pennsylvanians who choose to opt out of having their data used by corporations after they make online transactions. 

In a memorandum asking colleagues to co-sponsor their legislation, the senators reference Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, titled “Inherent rights of mankind.” Therein, the document declares Keystone Staters “have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”

Collett and Boscola lamented the increasing extent to which businesses profit from consumers’ information. That can include social security numbers, emails, demographic details, purchase histories, IP addresses, customer-survey responses and device identifiers. Companies often use the data they collect to enhance customer experiences but also often sell it to third parties or use it to benefit their own marketing efforts. 

“Pennsylvanians’ right to property and reputation are enshrined in our Commonwealth’s Constitution,” they wrote. “However, in our 21st-century digital age, protecting our property and reputations are more difficult than ever before. Currently, Pennsylvanians are paying a steep price for the efficiencies of e-commerce, the information overload of the Internet and the connectivity of social media – and that price is our privacy and personal data. This is not sustainable.” 

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia are the only states with laws comprehensively protecting consumers’ data in web transactions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Collett and Boscola’s proposal is a companion to a bill State Representative Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) introduced last year. Neilson’s legislation has yet to receive a vote in the House Consumer Affairs Committee. Though most of its co-sponsors are Democrats, two Republicans have signed onto it: State Reps. Wendi Thomas (R-Richboro) and Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-Sunbury). 

Collett and Boscola indicated small businesses would not suffer new burdens should their legislation become law as it would only apply to corporations that receive gross yearly revenues over $10 million and earn at least 50 percent of that money from purveying consumer data to other entities. 

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lisa Boscola (Right)” by Lisa Boscola. Photo “Maria Collett (Left)” by Maria Collett.