Wash. AG Supporting Cell Phone Privacy, Internet Safety and Ethics Bills

January 29, 2008

Five bills requested by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna are scheduled for public hearings today and Wednesday of this week. The bills would help keep cell phone numbers private, make it a crime to view child pornography, allow non-commissioned police personnel to assist in child pornography investigations, remove the limit on ethics board penalties and costs, and protect consumers from spy-ware.

Senate Bill 6374, sponsored by Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland and other lawmakers, would require any person in the business of compiling, marketing or selling phone numbers for commercial purposes to obtain a consumer’s express opt-in consent before publishing his or her wireless phone number in a directory. A violation of the law would be punishable by a fine of up to $50,000. The bill would allow the AG to enforce compliance. First-time violators could be notified with a warning letter.

Said McKenna of the proposed bill, “Consumers believe that their cell phone numbers are private and are generally annoyed by unsolicited calls that burn valuable minutes. We already have a law that requires wireless carriers to obtain a subscriber’s permission before listing a number in a directory. This bill expands that rule to other businesses that publish directories.”

Due to his concerns over the child pornography problem, McKenna requested legislation in 2006 to increase the penalty for possession of child pornography from an unranked felony to a Level VI with a minimum one year of prison time and to include viewing child pornography over the internet as an offense. “Child sex predators can view images online without necessarily downloading content to their hard drives,” McKenna said. “Our proposed law would make it easier for prosecutors to bring cases against those who view child pornography.”

In August 2007, McKenna convened the Youth Internet Safety Task Force to take advantage of Washington’s unique position as a technology leader and identify educational, collaborative and law enforcement strategies to make the Internet safer for the people of his state. The task force recommended this law. Senate Bill 6373, sponsored by Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and other legislators, seeks create a new crime of “Viewing Child Pornography.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will also hear testimony on a related Internet safety measure, Senate Bill 6372, which would allow non-commissioned police personnel trained in forensic analysis to assist in child pornography investigations.

Senate Bill 6293, sponsored by Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, would remove the limit on ethics board penalties and costs. Under the current statute, an ethics board may not require an alleged violator to make total payments of more than $500 in penalty and costs in any case where an administrative law judge is not used and the board did not provide this option to the individual who is the subject of the complaint.

Lastly, Senate Bill 6499, sponsored by Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island, and other legislators, would remedy loopholes and weaknesses in Washington’s Computer Spy-ware Statute. The AG’s Office has brought five lawsuits under the Consumer Spy-ware Statute since legislators enacted the law in 2005. McKenna said he’s asking for minor updates to adequately address new types of deceptive behaviors and Internet businesses that permit others to send spy-ware.

The proposed legislation would: (1) remove onerous requirements that hinder ability to prove cases against violators; (2) create liability for web hosting services who ignore violators’ use of their products or merchants who pay others to violate the law; (3) add violations for new forms of spy-ware; and (4) clarify the standards for proof of violations and the circumstances under which actions may be brought.

Source: Washington State Attorney General’s Office

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