REPORT: Vermont closer to passing 2nd-strongest privacy law in nation

 The Vermont Data Privacy Act would be a meaningful win for consumers, says watchdog groups

The Vermont House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that, if enacted, would be the 2nd-strongest consumer data privacy law in the nation, according to a new report from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). 

The House gave its final approval Friday to the Vermont Data Privacy Act (H.121), which will now head to the Senate. As written, H.121 earns a B+ grade from the groups for how well it protects consumers’ data privacy and security.  

“Right now, Vermonters’ web searches, online purchases and location check-ins are being harvested, bought, and sold by companies totally legally,” said Zach Tomanelli, a consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “The unchecked spread of our personal information exposes consumers to all sorts of threats like scams, identity theft, harassment, and discrimination. Vermonters deserve common sense protections that limit companies from harvesting whatever data they want and doing whatever they want with it.” 

H.121 passed unanimously on a 139-0 vote with wide support from Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Libertarians, and Independents.

“Today, Vermont takes a bold step forward in safeguarding our personal freedoms and ensuring equitable treatment in our digital world,” said Rep. Monique Priestley. “By championing this comprehensive Data Privacy Act, we set a national precedent for balancing innovation with the rights of individuals. Together, we are not just reclaiming control; we are taking a step toward securing a future where data privacy is a fundamental right for all.”

Because the U.S. lacks a comprehensive privacy law, 14 states have passed their own privacy laws. Nearly half of these state laws, however, receive “F” grades for failing to protect consumers’ data privacy and security, found a report last month from EPIC and PIRG. The Vermont Data Privacy Act would earn a B+, the same grade as California, which has the strongest law in the country. 

“Vermont is taking important steps toward protecting consumers from abusive corporate data practices,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of EPIC. “Vermont has long been a leader on privacy, and this bill helps continue that tradition.” 

A key piece of this bill is a private right of action, which allows consumers to hold companies that violate their rights accountable in court. The bill does give businesses a chance to correct any violations before they can be sued. 

“Companies need to answer for their bad behavior,” Tomanelli said. “But this isn’t about going after small businesses that are making good-faith efforts to protect consumers’ data. Instead, this bill allows Vermonters and businesses to work together to fix problems.”

Vermont has a history of leading the country on privacy protections. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to pass a law regulating data brokers and requiring them to register with the state, increasing transparency for consumers. 

“Vermont has the opportunity to give people real protections,” Tomanelli said. “It’s time to rein in companies’ out of control data practices and make our online lives safer.”

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