John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Privacy Category

Protecting Your Online Privacy is an Important Local Issue!

[This post was updated on 10/17/17.]

Lower Makefield Township Supervisor John B. Lewis has proposed an ordinance to protect the online privacy of Lower Makefield residents and suggests that other townships do the same. See his Opinion piece - “Protecting your online privacy: an important local issue” – published in today’s Bucks Courier Times.

Specifically, Lewis is concerned about the provisions of a new federal law signed by president Trump that makes it “legal and lucrative for your Internet Service Provider (ISP; i.e., Verizon FIOS, Xfinity, etc.) to sell your browsing history, app usage and personally-identifiable information without your ability to opt-out or know what is being shared with a third party.”

Lewis’s proposed ordinance, which you can find here, states:

Township Supervisors have determined that the sharing of personally identifiable information such as web browsing, application usage, and the extent of viewing of video programs with third parties can have negative, unforeseen consequences on residents and residents should have the right to opt-out of third party information sharing to protect their  privacy and maintain the general welfare of residents of Lower Makefield Township.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit ISPs from collecting personally identifiable information without prior authorization form the customer. Additionally, it states that customers have the right to opt-out of the disclosure of personally identifiable information and that these rights should be communicated to customers via privacy notices.

John Lewis is not just a Supervisor. He is an interactive marketing authority and strategist for one of the largest customer lifecycle marketing providers. His strategic advice helps companies integrate digital messaging, empowering marketers to manage conversations across email, mobile and social channels to acquire, grow and retain customers.

Supervisor Amy Strouse from Middletown has indicated she will be introducing a similar ordinance and other municipalities are considering action as well. So far, I have not heard any mention of this issue at Newtown Board of Supervisors meetings.

In my professional career, I have taken a leadership position in the online health information quality and privacy arena as the co-founder and past president of the Internet Healthcare Coalition, a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)3 corporation whose mission was to provide educational programs, research, and other resources for improving the quality of health information and privacy on the Internet.

Therefore, I am in favor of Newtown Township adopting a privacy ordinance similar to the one proposed by Mr. Lewis for Lower Makefield. Such an ordinance is permitted under federal law (Section 632 of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992).

What do you think? Should Newtown introduce a similar ordinance?

UPDATE 20 August 2017: At the April 26, 2017, Board of Supervisors meeting, Newtown Township Manager, Kurt Ferguson, pointed out that Newtown collects about $516,000 in franchise fees from Verizon and Comcast. Every decade Newtown and other local municipalities must negotiate franchise contracts with the cable companies. The township is currently in negotiation with Verizon.  

UPDATE 17 October 2017: Comcast and Verizon fight proposed privacy ordinances. See Bucks County Courier Times article below,

UPDATE 18 October 2017: Falls Approves Online Privacy Laws for ISPs. See Bucks County Courier Times article below,

Posted on 19 Oct 2017, 01:11 - Category: Privacy

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