Silence is Not Consent

Friday, April 9, 2021
By Emilie St-Pierre, Privacy and Security Ambassador at Future Ada.

For victims of online harassment, stalking and domestic violence, privacy is more than a right – it’s a necessity. Anonymity keeps survivors and their families safe and it’s going to become much more difficult to achieve if SB 5062, the “Washington Privacy Act,” becomes law.

As a privacy and security advisor who works with underrepresented members of our community in Spokane, including survivors of assault and violence, I help people get the anonymity they need for personal safety, working with them to remove their data from the Internet. The crisis of violence in our region is significant. According to the Spokane Regional Health District, Spokane County has approximately 3,900 confirmed victims of domestic violence every year, with the district estimating the issue to be under reported. When adding to this number victims of stalking, harassment and other forms of threats and violence, the actual number of people who must rely on privacy for their safety is far greater than 3,900. As a result, the passage of weak privacy regulations would have a tremendous negative impact on the safety and well-being of people living in our region.

Achieving privacy is a difficult endeavor for folks, as everything we do in our daily lives creates data – from connecting with friends, shopping or studying online, to driving a car or just browsing websites. That data exposes a detailed picture of who a person is, where they live, what they do and much more. For survivors of domestic violence, stalking and online harassment, that picture can be dangerous even to their partners, family members and friends. And without strong data privacy regulations, that data can be anywhere from difficult to impossible to remove, as it is currently the case.

Unfortunately, if SB 5062 passes, my job is going to get a lot harder. The Washington Privacy Act puts companies in control of an individual’s data and doesn’t give them much incentive to protect people like my clients. Not only does it shield companies from lawsuits for privacy violations, but it gives companies a “right to cure” or a chance to fix the violation without penalty. That doesn’t offer much protection to domestic violence, stalking and online harassment survivors, because once personal data is in the wrong hands, it’s too late. Curing a violation doesn’t magically restore a person’s safety, privacy or anonymity.

People’s data is already being misused to stalk, threaten and impersonate people across the Spokane area and we critically need strong data privacy protections to prevent this misuse from happening. Unfortunately, SB 5062 doesn’t provide those strong protections. The safety of survivors is put at additional risk as they are burdened with needing to understand how different companies collect, use, and share their data. They are further labored with the task of needing to maneuver through the endless different methods companies use to try to opt-out of this collection and sharing process in an effort to protect themselves. Not only that, but it is also impossible to get an exhaustive list of companies which have data on a person. Overall, the opt-out process is costly, requiring a significant number of hours, continuous vigilance and often requires spending money. Every survivor deserves protection, but not every survivor has access to those resources. Again, this is too late for people who face danger if their information gets into the wrong hands. Only strong regulations that require a person to affirmatively opt-in to the collection and sharing of their data would provide meaningful protection.

If we care about survivors, families and children and hold their safety and security in the highest regard, then we must reject policies that potentially endanger them. SB 5062’s after-the-fact approach is too little, too late for the thousands of people across Spokane who rely on privacy to keep them safe and to keep them alive. We must protect survivors of domestic violence, stalking and online harassment. Too many in Spokane depend upon their privacy for their safety and the safety of their loved ones. We must reject weak data privacy regulations that put them in danger.
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