A good bill in Springfield would help rein in electronic snoops

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To help guard our private data, at least from the government, the Illinois House on April 22 passed the Protecting Household Privacy Act. On Tuesday, the bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate should pass the bill and send it on to the governor. | Jessica Hill/AP

In a world where nothing online is safe from hackers, should we have to worry about private information falling into nefarious hands?

Household electronic devices collect, store and transmit a lot of sensitive information about us that should stay private, if that’s our wish.

But smart TVs, video doorbells, smart thermostats, locks linked to wifi, virtual assistants and home surveillance cams harvest the details of our inner lives in a way most people don’t even realize. Those embedded mini-microphones and cameras may be recording us at moments when we let our guard down.

There’s no law that ensures all this collected data stays private. Or that government can’t snoop on us through these electronic eavesdroppers.

To help guard our private data, at least from the government, the Illinois House on April 22 passed the Protecting Household Privacy Act. On Tuesday, the bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate should pass the bill and send it on to the governor.

If Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs it, police would need to obtain a search warrant before they could confiscate household electronic devices to see what data they have recorded and stored. The bill provides an exception for emergencies. Data the cops scoop up with a warrant then would have to be destroyed in 60 days, unless it is part of a criminal investigation, to prevent anyone from misusing the information later on.

Unfortunately, measures that would require businesses to inform people what information they harvest and whom they pass it on to were dropped from an earlier version of the bill. These measures need to be part of future legislation.

Information gathered by electronic devices undoubtedly can be of help to us, and to society. It can help police solve a crime. It can provide reassurance that our homes are OK after a big storm hits while we’re on vacation. But we shouldn’t have to live under a constant electronic microscope, especially when we’re not even fully aware of what information is being collected.

In a world where nothing online is safe from hackers, should we have to worry about our private data falling into nefarious hands?

The Protecting Household Privacy Act would help shut the door on electronic nosiness. It should be made law.

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May 6, 2021 at 06:24PM

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