Montana adds stronger privacy protections

Efforts to pass privacy legislation at the state level are intensifying as progress on the issue remains stagnant at the federal level. Montana recently became the latest state to enact its own privacy law, with Governor Greg Gianforte signing SB 384 into law on May 19. Advocates claim that Montana’s privacy law is one of the strongest to be passed in a Republican-controlled state. The legislation, introduced by Montana State Senator Daniel Zolnikov, includes a universal opt-out provision, allowing individuals to choose not to be tracked online. This provision has faced opposition from companies seeking verification and additional steps to avoid the opt-out.

Zolnikov based Montana’s bill on a similar one passed in Connecticut last year, which established default browser settings for opt-out preferences, making it difficult for companies to bypass consumer data protection measures. Matt Schwartz, a policy analyst at Consumer Reports, commended Montana’s law for granting consumers the right to access, delete, and halt the sale of their personal information. The bill also addresses the use of “dark patterns,” deceptive tactics employed to obtain consent, and sets a deadline for companies to rectify privacy violations. The law is slated to take effect on October 1, 2024.

Montana joins California, Colorado, and Connecticut as states that have enacted consumer-friendly data privacy legislation. However, not all states have been successful in passing robust privacy bills. Tennessee recently signed a privacy law criticized for containing loopholes that exempted pseudonymous information like online cookies from consumer rights. While Texas has passed versions of privacy bills in its House and Senate, the inclusion of a universal opt-out provision in the Senate version has created uncertainty regarding the final effectiveness of the law.

Privacy law expert Dan Clarke highlights the growing momentum across various state legislatures to pass data privacy bills. Some states, such as Florida, are likely to enact privacy legislation this year, while others, like New Hampshire and New Jersey, are either delaying or narrowing the scope of their bills. Clarke notes that state bills often draw inspiration from existing laws, with Virginia and Colorado serving as models due to their balanced approach between consumer interests and business considerations. Despite the progress at the state level, federal privacy legislation has struggled to gain traction.

Zolnikov emphasizes that the passing of Montana’s privacy law breaks the perception that data privacy is solely supported by Democrats and that Republicans only back bills favoring companies. He believes that both sides of the political spectrum should prioritize strong consumer protections and hopes that other Republican-led states will follow suit. Zolnikov also warns that tech companies will eventually need to embrace federal legislation to avoid dealing with a complex patchwork of state privacy laws. The aim is to incentivize action at the federal level by passing robust state laws.

BY: Big Sky Headlines Staff