Increasingly predatory means of profiling and tracking consumers online must be cracked down on – any basic expectation of privacy requires it. The relentless collection and sale of personal data has rightly spurred lawmakers the world over into action.

So too here in Maine, where a complex data privacy bill wending its way through the Legislature – L.D. 1977 – has been described as “unique.”

The bill seeks to place limits on what information companies can collect and use via the internet. If passed, it will place major restrictions on doing business online, altering the landscape for Maine consumers and creating hardship for the companies opposed to the proposal, large and small. (Elements of digital marketing and data use that are targeted by L.D. 1977 are tied to the business model of the Maine Trust for Local News, of which this newspaper is a part.)

The proposal is reportedly the product of many hours of work during 11 separate work sessions of the Judiciary Committee, a remarkable number (which itself speaks to the highly ambitious nature of the undertaking). “I’ve never seen a committee dig into something like this,” one member told Maine Morning Star.

We’d prefer if the committee had invested the time elsewhere. The most workable and reliable data protection legislation won’t come from any amount of hard work at the state level – it will come from the federal government, which has so far failed miserably in this respect, “leaving it up to individual states.” For many regulatory concerns, states can and must go it alone. We do not believe that course of action is sensible here.

The most robust and conspicuous data protection regulation in the world right now is European Union-wide and took years to craft. The definitions and requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, changed everything for the FAANGs of the world (that’s Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google and their ilk) when it went into effect almost six years ago. Violations carry exorbitant fines. The strength of the law is in its wide, widely known and understood application. It tends to place control in the hands of European consumer, wherever she is.

If the Maine Legislature decides to press ahead with its own version, our law will enjoy none of that standardized strength.

It’s more than understandable for advocates to be dissatisfied with the federal regulatory picture and to be impatient for protections. In setting Maine apart, however, the potential downsides for business of a “comprehensive” state-level attempt at data privacy seem to us outweigh the potential upsides.

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