Fighting for You Coast to Coast: 2021 in Review

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EFF is promoting its presence in state houses across the country to advocate for strong laws on privacy, broadband access, and to protect and advance your digital rights. The pandemic has changed how state lawmakers work in 2021, but one thing has remained the same: The EFF is rallying to fight for you from coast to coast.

Golden opportunities in the Golden State

We helped achieve a huge victory for all Californians this year, finally securing a historic $ 6 billion investment in broadband infrastructure for the State of California. By building on the work and community support we started building in 2020 to invest in bridging the digital divide, we were able to help bring those efforts across the finish line.

EFF has strongly supported efforts to expand and improve broadband infrastructure to provide access to 21st century broadband technology to every community. For years, Internet service providers have divided the state, neglecting rural and low-income communities. It has become very clear that the market alone will not bridge the digital divide; that’s why we need a policy. The difficulties many people faced while learning and working remotely during the pandemic made it clearer than ever that California must change the status quo.

California’s new broadband program addresses the problem on several fronts. It enables local public entities, local private actors and the state government itself to be the source of the solution. Through a combination of new construction, low-interest loans and grants, this money will allow communities to have more information about where and how networks are built.

This victory came from the combination of persistent statewide activism from all corners, the political leadership of people such as Senator Lena Gonzalez, the funding of investments from the US rescue plan adopted by Congress, and a multi-billion broadband plan included in Governor Newsom’s budget.

In addition to our broadband work, we’ve also worked with other civil liberties groups in California on a few bills to improve confidentiality around genetic data. SB 41, written by Senator Tom Umberg, adds privacy requirements for direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC) companies such as Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. It gives consumers more transparency on how these companies use their information, have more control over how it is shared and stored, and establish explicit protections against discrimination using genetic data.

AB 825, authored by Assembly Member Marc Levine, expanded the definition of personal information, for the purposes of state data security and data breach notification laws, to include genetic data. This means that if a company is irresponsible with your genetic data, it can be held responsible.

We were pleased that Governor Newsom signed both bills.

Make no mistake: our victories are yours too. Thank you to everyone who picked up the phone or emailed their California Representative or Senator. We couldn’t have done it without this support.

Across the country

Of course, California is not the only state where we are fighting for your digital rights. We’ve advocated across the country, from Washington to Virginia, to fight bad bills and support good ones in partnership with friends in those states.

In Washington, we joined a coalition to help push through HB 1336 by representative Drew Hansen, which widened the choice of broadband. Signed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, HB 1336 will improve access not only for rural areas of the state, but also for underserved urban communities.

Of course, we haven’t won all the fights. Despite our opposition, the Virginia legislature passed an empty privacy law – weak, underfunded, not designed for consumers – that puts the wants of business before the needs of consumers. As Reuters reported, Amazon lobbyists handed the bill to the author and pushed hard for it to pass. Virginians deserved better.

Privacy protection will continue to be a hot topic in legislatures across the country next year. We urge lawmakers not to view weak bills, such as Virginia’s or the recent “model bill” presented by the Uniform Law Commission, as examples to follow. Instead, we urge you to consider EFF’s top priorities for privacy legislation, including strict enforcement.

Look ahead

Our state legislative work is as busy as it has ever been. We are working with more partners on the ground in states across the country, especially those in our local Electronic Frontier Alliance, to connect with our fellow advocates and fight together for everyone’s digital rights. We hope to be just as busy in 2022.

This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read more articles on the fight for digital rights in 2021.


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