The article discusses the efforts made by tech lobbyists to weaken a data privacy bill in Montana. Senator Daniel Zolnikov, the bill’s sponsor, originally wanted to create strong privacy regulations to protect personal data. However, the national tech lobbyists influenced him to make changes that aligned with their interests. They suggested mirroring a law from Utah, known for its laissez-faire approach to privacy. They wanted to remove a universal opt-out provision, narrow the definition of “sale” of user data, and give companies more time to resolve privacy violations before facing enforcement actions. The lobbyists communicated with Zolnikov through email and phone calls, never meeting him face-to-face. They presented their proposed changes as technical, but they undermined the original goal of a strong privacy law. In Maryland, the same lobbyists supported a privacy bill similar to the one initially proposed by Zolnikov but claimed it was too difficult to comply with in Montana. Nevertheless, Zolnikov managed to make amendments to the bill, including universal opt-out requirements and immediate penalties for violations. The bill passed with bipartisan support. Zolnikov believes that the Montana law shows that a Republican-led state can protect privacy while remaining business-friendly, unlike other Republican-led states that have passed weaker privacy laws.
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