Protecting Our Privacy Online

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Senator Kevin Thomas

In our tech-driven world, data privacy is becoming more important than ever. Think for a moment about the personal information you share online—your photos, your voice, your online search history, even your financial information. How much control do you have over that private data once it has been shared online? The short answer: basically none.
The recent data-sharing scandals at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have revealed just how easy it is for big tech companies to exploit and profit from the personal information you share online. What’s more, there are no federal regulations that require these companies to disclose what types of data they are collecting, how they’re using it, and who they’re sharing with. Your personal data may be collected and shared with dozens, if not hundreds of companies without your permission.
There are two significant reasons why this is important: First, when these companies fail to protect private data, they put people at increased risk of becoming victims of identity theft and fraud. One example of this is the recent Equifax breach, which exposed the addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of more than 148 million people—almost half the population of the United States. Second, people have the right to be free from uninvited surveillance. Privacy forms the basis of our democratic freedoms. When companies collect our private information and fail to give us a say in how it is used or shared, this is a violation of our right to privacy.

Europe has already recognized the importance of protecting personal data. The European Union recently passed the General Data Protection Regulation, commonly known as the GDPR, which gives consumers certain rights over their data and places security obligations on companies holding their data. Similarly, the State of California has passed a Consumer Privacy Act, which gives consumers a right to control how companies collect and use their personal data. The law takes effect this January.

In this rapidly-evolving, technology-driven age, we can’t afford to wait around while the federal government drags its feet on this important issue. New York must be a leader in protecting the privacy of its residents and their personal data. That is why I introduced the New York Privacy Act, a groundbreaking piece of privacy legislation that aims to give New Yorkers full control over their private data. If passed, the New York Privacy Act would allow people to find out what data companies are collecting on them, see who they’re sharing that data with, request that it be corrected or deleted, and avoid having their data shared with or sold to third parties. Additionally, the law penalizes companies that make their profits at the expense of their customers’ privacy.

With technology ever-evolving, this issue grows more pressing each day. As much as I hate to think about it, my daughter will eventually be old enough to start using social media. When she does, I want her to be as protected as possible. That’s why the New York Privacy Act is a top priority for me as I prepare for the upcoming legislative session in Albany this January.

Senator Kevin Thomas represents New York’s 6th Senatorial District in Nassau County. He presently serves as Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection.

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In addition to being editor of Garden City Life, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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