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The ACLU and lawmakers just made a huge push for digital privacy

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union coordinated with legislators around the country today to propose privacy bills in 16 states and the District of Columbia. The bills vary in their details, but all share the same central focus: to protect the privacy of people's data on the internet. The legislation, which would impact around 100 million people if passed, would address student data, employee data, and location tracking. One student data bill, for instance, would require explicit parental or student permission before data is used for non-educational purposes by a third party. A separate student-related bill would make sure schools can't break into students' phones and computers without getting a warrant. Other legislation includes:

  • Bills in Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, and West Virginia would prevent companies from demanding access to current or prospective employees’ social media accounts.
  • Bills in Nebraska, Michigan, and Illinois would require law enforcement to get a warrant before deploying a stingray, or cell-site simulator, to track a person’s location.
  • Bills in Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia would prevent the government from obtaining the contents of emails until a warrant is obtained.

Many of these bills attempt bring privacy legislation up to California's standards. The state passed the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act this past year, which required the state's law enforcement to get a warrant before collecting citizens’ emails, IP addresses, and other electronic information. It's one of the largest privacy bill to-date, and at the time of its passage, the ACLU called it a "landmark" move. Today's push clearly demonstrates the nonprofit's interest in expanding those protections to millions of other Americans.