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Falls Supervisors to Consider Ordinance Providing Privacy Protection

With an eye on providing its residents with protection from the sharing of sensitive information online, the Falls Township Supervisors introduced an amendment to its Cable Television Franchise ordinance. If adopted, the ordinance would prevent cable companies from disseminating “personally identifiable information” without a customer’s express consent.

The proposed amendment is in response to a move this spring in which the federal government “stripped away protections,” essentially making it legal for online service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to share private information without their customers’ consent, according to Supervisor Chairman Bob Harvie. The Falls Supervisors voted unanimously during its Sept. 19 meeting to introduce and advertise the ordinance.

The local ordinance amendment, which will be considered for adoption on Oct. 17, would require cable providers to obtain customers’ written or electronic permission prior to sharing information. The ordinance defines personally identifiable information as a customer’s login credentials, extent of viewing of video or other services, shopping choices, interests, energy uses, medical and banking information, web browsing activities, application usage, as well as any other private information.

“It’s relatively new, but we believe it will withstand a challenge,” Township solicitor Michael Clarke told the board when the amendment was introduced in September.

Lower Makefield Supervisors enacted a similar privacy protection ordinance and Middletown Supervisors have said they are considering it as well.

A provision of the proposed amendment would require cable companies to email or mail privacy notices and opt-out forms annually to all customers. In addition, notices would be provided to customers at the time the service was set up.

The local ordinance would require that cable companies incorporate the following in its notices: “As a customer, you may elect to protect the privacy of your personally identifiable information by opting-out of information sharing.  If you elect to opt-out of information sharing, any disclosure of personally identifiable information for purposes other than to the extent necessary to render, or conduct a legitimate business activity relate to a cable service or other service, is limited to disclosure pursuant to a subpoena or valid Court Order authorizing such disclosure; or to a governmental entity, but only to the extent required by applicable Federal law.”

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