A bill to prohibit Maine internet service providers from sharing or selling a customer’s online data without consent was passed by the Maine legislature last week and in all likelihood will be soon signed into law by Governor Janet Mills. While we applaud the desire by the state of Maine to protect the privacy of its citizens, this bill does not accomplish its stated goal. At a minimum, we urge Maine and all other states considering privacy legislation to make sure that any new law completely and effectively protects LGBTQ Americans and we hope that Maine’s elected officials will revisit this legislation as soon as possible to ensure that.
LGBT Tech has performed research that illustrates the importance of comprehensive privacy to the LGBTQ community. Our research shows that 81 percent of LGBTQ youth have searched for health information online, compared to only 46 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. Additionally, 80 percent of LGBTQ respondents participate in a social networking site, (such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) compared to only 58 percent of the general public. Our research also shows that using the internet to search for health information is particularly important for lesbians whose health needs often go unnoticed or overlooked.
Moreover, privacy is a particularly important issue for the LGBTQ community, especially for those individuals who are still choosing with whom they disclose their sexual orientation. Strong consumer privacy and data security measures across the entire internet ecosystem are absolutely vital to ensure user data is not improperly revealed or otherwise compromised and that LGBTQ people are able to stay in complete control over how they choose to reveal such personal information. From cyberbullying and harassment to even deeper invasions like digital outing and the breach of personal medical information, LGBTQ Americans face many unique risks and threats online. In part this flows from the continued existence of prejudice and hate crimes and in part from the related fact that every LGBT person has the absolute right to decide when and where to be public about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Although Maine is one of the states that has taken the critical steps to provide Full LGBT Non-Discrimination Protections, thirty (30) states around the country do not offer the same protections, putting our community at serious risk when sensitive information is shared. For LGBT youth in unaccepting families or isolated areas where they may lack safe places to be out, breaches of privacy can literally be a matter of life and death.
That is why we are deeply concerned by the narrow scope of the legislation just passed by the Maine Legislature, which covers only broadband providers and does nothing about privacy risks on the broader internet. Indeed, by trumpeting the cause of internet privacy but covering such a small sliver of the total online environment, we worry this legislation could unintentionally give LGBTQ internet users a false sense of security that strong privacy rules are in place to protect them, when in fact those rules don’t apply to some of the most sensitive and important things they do.
This problem can be readily solved if Congress passes strong federal legislation as soon as possible that provides consistent and comprehensive protections across the entire internet ecosystem. LGBT Americans – and indeed all Americans – should be able to trust that all the companies, services, and applications they deal with online are covered by one set of strong, effective privacy rules.
LGBT Tech will continue to track action in Maine, as well as other state privacy bills, to ensure they protect LGBTQ communities as broadly as possible.