Today, Mayor Ed Murray took steps to protect the privacy of Seattle’s internet users. Mayor Murray directed the implementation of a Seattle IT rule, which requires the City’s key internet service providers to obtain permission from their customers before selling web browsing history and personally identifiable information at a detailed or aggregate level. This rule reinstates a key consumer privacy protection eliminated by the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration last month.
“Where the Trump administration continues to roll back critical consumer protections, Seattle will act,” said Mayor Murray. “I believe protecting the privacy of internet users is essential and this policy allows the City to do just that. Because of regulation repeals at the national level, we must use all of the powers at our disposal to protect the rights of our residents.”
Mayor Murray is directing the City to issue this rule under its authority to issue and oversee cable television franchises. Seattle Municipal Code (SMC 21.60) grants the City of Seattle authority to issue rules related to the privacy practices of cable operators. These rules govern not only cable television services but also non-cable services, such as internet service. The new rule states cable operators must obtain opt-in consent before sharing a customer’s web browsing history or otherwise using such information for a purpose other than providing a customer with their requested service.
Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave have cable franchise agreements with the City of Seattle and will be subject to the new rule. Under the terms of the rule, these cable operators must report their compliance by Sept. 30, 2017 and annually thereafter. The rule also stipulates that any aggrieved person may begin a civil action for damages for invasion of privacy against any grantee.
Since 1999, the City of Seattle’s “Cable Customer Bill of Rights” has provided the public with strong protections to ensure competent, responsive service from cable operators. The Rights were modified in 2002 and 2015 to add privacy protections to address concerns that advances in technology would greatly increase the capabilities of cable operators to collect, use and disclose their customers’ information without customers’ permission. Learn more about the Rights and how to issue a comment or complaint by visiting http://www.seattle.gov/cable.