Do you charge your smart phone at night before bed time so you wake up with a 100% charge?

The reason I ask is that if you don’t, and you forget to plug in before bed and then wake up with a depleted battery, it’s possible your insurance company could notice. Your insurer could code you as a higher risk because you’re not organized.

Seriously.

I first heard this story from a state lawmaker a month ago, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. How could it possibly be true?



DRC_Dave_Lieber_headshot_2016.jpg

Dave Lieber

Then I heard it from the cyber expert who first told the lawmaker about this. The expert testified about the practice at a Texas House hearing last week.

Chris Humphreys, an Austin-based security expert with experience in both government and the private sector, told House members that at a conference of the Texas Association of Life and Health Insurers, he heard a speaker explain that if a phone user has an insurance company app on their phone, the company can track items including their battery usage.

Depleted battery equals a high-risk consumer? High risk equals higher premiums. Data collected on us affects our insurance premiums and our credit scores, and we don’t even know it.

These kinds of privacy abuses are exactly why we need a new Texas data privacy law. There are few rules and some companies take advantage of that.

We all know by now that the smartphone in your purse or pocket is the ultimate spying device. But you need to know you’re not powerless to stop the abuses and invasions of privacy.

Two bills up for discussion in Austin would solve this. You can weigh in with your legislator.

Is there a chance for passage? Yes. The Watchdog can see a path this year. Somebody needs to stand up to lobbyists representing Google, Facebook and the rest.

Texas can lead on security

Texas can lead the nation in passing a rational well-planned data privacy law. California was the first state to pass one, and lawmakers there did it in a week. Since California is home to Silicon Valley and big data grabbers like Facebook and Google, the California law, passed so quickly, has caused a lot of fretting.

In the Texas Legislature, two bills have been introduced that strongly protect consumers.

House Bill 4390 is the Texas Privacy Protection Act offered by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake. It regulates the capturing of our privacy information and what can be done with it. Consumers control its distribution and can request deletions.

House Bill 4518 is the Texas Consumer Privacy Act introduced by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. Like the other bill, it would regulate larger companies like Facebook and Google and put strict rules on data collecting. The bill also includes civil penalties of $2,500 per violation, and $7,500 if a violation is intentional.

Both have a reasonable chance to survive because they probably will not get stuck in committee, where most bills die. Fischer, sponsor of the second bill, is also chairman of the Business & Industry Committee, which has the power to send it to the full House or not. My guess is he’ll push one or both out for a full House vote and then on to the Senate. The chairman sounds adamant about the need for a new law.

The opposition

Who’s trying to stop it?

So far, public critics include the Independent Bankers of Texas, which doesn’t want any more cumbersome rules to bedevil its members. Note, though, that the Texas Bankers Association is not opposed.

Some computer and technology associations oppose the bills, too. The most prominent is Lexis Nexis.

What’s the argument critics make?

You’ll laugh.

They say that if 50 states pass 50 different laws, it’ll be chaos for companies. Instead, they suggest — wait for it — letting Congress passing a federal law.

That suggestion at the Austin hearing drew laughter.

No federal law is coming soon, and it’s unlikely D’s and R’s in Washington, D.C., will strike a deal and pass one.

“I don’t think we can wait on the federal government,” rookie state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, told the committee.

Another area rookie, state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, said in the hearing, “Texas, a lot of times, leads the way.”

Added bill sponsor Capriglione, “If I wanted to do a federal law, I would have run for Congress.”

He didn’t, so here we are.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to charge your phone!

NOTE: If you have thoughts, contact your lawmakers about House Bills 4390 and 4518.

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