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State legislators want to tame ‘wild, wild west’ of smart technology data

The Protecting Household Privacy Act would require makers of smart devices to tell customers how their information is shared.

State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, left, and state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, talk to reporters Monday about tightening regulations over the use of data collected from “smart” household devices.
State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, left, and state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, talk to reporters Monday about tightening regulations over the use of data collected from “smart” household devices.
Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Illinoisans shouldn’t have to surrender their right to privacy to enjoy such things as smart speakers, doorbells and thermostats, according to two state legislators who who say it’s the “wild, wild west” when it comes to personal data access.

“As technology advances, the laws simply can’t keep up,” state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said Monday.

Williams and state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, are behind a bill — The Protecting Household Privacy Act — requiring makers of smart devices such as as the Amazon Echo or Ring video doorbells to disclose to customers on their websites the names of all third parties receiving personal data.

The Senate measure, which Castro is sponsoring, would also require law enforcement to get a court order to access someone’s household data. Police would have to destroy any data within 30 days, unless, for example, there is “reasonable suspicion that the information contains evidence of criminal activity,” according to the measure.

“We’re simply saying that as technology advances, law enforcement must be held to these basic standards — civil liberties standards — to protect the data,” Williams said.

Or put another way: “You wouldn’t open your door for law enforcement and allow them unfettered access to everything in your home any other time. This is the electronic version of exactly that,” Williams said.

Castro and Williams say the proposal is the first measure in the nation that specifically deals with privacy rights regarding such “smart” household devices.