State News

Vermont sets national precedent with unanimous House vote for data privacy

The Vermont House of Representatives achieved a historic milestone by unanimously passing H.121, an act relating to enhancing consumer privacy, with a resounding vote of 139-0.

In a time where our every move, word, and heartbeat are incessantly documented by a myriad of devices, the urgency for comprehensive consumer data privacy laws has never been more critical. Vermont has a long history of prioritizing consumer privacy protections, and in the absence of federal legislation, lawmakers have acted with a duty to protect Vermont’s own. 

Under the leadership of Rep. Michael Marcotte, the Vermont House Committee on Commerce & Economic Development heard a diverse range of perspectives from across stakeholder groups and sectors in order to draft a protective, but largely technology and industry-neutral proposal.

Marcotte shared, “Consumer protection is of the utmost importance in the state of Vermont. The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee continues its tradition of being a leader in consumer protection and safeguarding data privacy with H.121. We are certain that our colleagues in the Senate will continue to follow the tradition of strong consumer protection leadership and will continue to work in partnership with other states in order to maintain a protective legislative force in the era of big data.” 

Consumer data privacy bills are incredibly complex and interconnected — definitions, consumer rights, business obligations, and exceptions exist in a delicate balance and even seemingly small changes in language can have cascading effects.

House Commerce and Economic Development Committee Vice Chair, Rep. Stephanie Zak Jerome added, “Data privacy is a vitally important topic and rightfully should be a federal law. In the absence of federal legislation, 14 states have passed data privacy legislation to protect consumers — Vermont is poised to be the 15th and a national model.”

The Vermont Data Privacy Act champions crucial consumer rights. It gives people the ability for individuals to access, delete, and correct the information that businesses have about them as well as to opt out of the use of personal data for targeted advertising, data sales, and significant automated profiling decisions. It adds affirmative opt-in consent requirements around the collection and processing of sensitive personal data — including information about health status, demographics, and precise geolocation.

As the uses of big data and advanced analytics expand, where Vermonters’ personal information is commodified without explicit consent, it is increasingly crucial that we establish a set of rules that balance the needs of business operation with consumer protection. Reporter of the bill, Rep. Monique Priestley stated, “By embracing legislation that consumer privacy advocates EPIC & VPIRG are touting as one of the strongest in the U.S., we have the opportunity to safeguard our personal freedoms, ensure equitable treatment in the digital landscape, and reclaim control over our digital footprints. It is crucial that we protect Vermonters in the face of unchecked technological expansion and to secure a future where data privacy is not just a privilege, but a fundamental right.”

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