Skip to content

“The Impact”: President of Microsoft weighs in on data privacy bills

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

On “The Impact”:


Tech giants located in Washington are watching this legislative session closely. State lawmakers are debating new regulations for companies that collect or sell personal data and new restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology.  Microsoft President Brad Smith supports the Senate data privacy bill, SB 6281, which incorporates aspects of the privacy laws in place in the European Union and California. The Washington Privacy Act aims to give state residents the right to access, correct, and delete personal information held by companies.

 “People need to be able to trust technology. That’s the only way they’re going to use it,” said Smith. “What they will benefit from is a stronger legal structure that protects their rights. Certainly with a company like Microsoft or Amazon, it will give them the opportunity to raise concerns with us if they have them; to go to the state Attorney General if their concerns are not satisfied.”

The prime sponsor of SB 6281, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, (D-Seattle) says it’s past time to pass new data privacy legislation.

“…there’s a global standard around consumer data privacy in Europe and there’s also the state of California that has moved forward, but no other state has really taken a bold stand to craft sort of a thoughtful and reflective regulatory structure regarding how our consumer data works. For example for us today, you might take a DNA test on and 23andMe, you might take that test and want that data to be deleted. Those companies, that’s their choice whether to allow you to delete that data. Under our bill that’s actually mandatory. They have to allow you to delete that back end data.  So that’s an example of how consumers are empowered by the ability to know who has their data, the ability to delete it, correct it and to opt out of targeted ads and the sale of their data,” said Carlyle.

The legislation has bipartisan support in the Senate.

 “I think that we’ve seen the stakes really with all the data breaches and identity theft, just that feeling that someone’s always watching. And I hear that all the time, ‘it’s just creepy how they know what I want, how they know what I’m doing.’ So for me and the folks that I am hearing from, they just want to know that the eye in the sky isn’t constantly upon them,” said co-sponsor, Sen. Ann Rivers, (R-La Center).

Under the terms of the Washington Privacy Act, companies that use facial recognition would be required to clearly notify people and gain permission by having consumers opt-in for certain uses of their image.  A separate bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-Seattle, would regulate government use of facial recognition.

“Well, I doubt we’ll see the kinds of issues arise in the United States that we see in some other parts of the world, but I think we should always be asking all of the big questions. I think one of those questions is where should we be comfortable allowing law enforcement to use facial recognition to say, follow you everywhere you go? Should they have to get a search warrant or some other court order to do that? And our answer is yes,” said Smith. “I think the time to protect people’s rights is before they’re under attack.”

There are competing bills in the House. A number of privacy watchdogs favor a moratorium on the use of facial recognition instead of simply new regulations.

Some privacy watchdogs say the Senate bill is stronger than a previous version which stalled in 2019, but argue that it still has loopholes. The bill gives exclusive enforcement power to the Washington Attorney General’s Office. Critics also think that individuals should be allowed to sue over violations.

Carlyle disagrees.

“Look we’re starting at zero and we’re creating a comprehensive policy after two years of stakeholder work. And that comprehensive policy gives those consumers the right to delete, opt-out, all of those things we talked about. And the real question is does the legislature want to craft that policy and ask the attorney general to enforce the policy relative to patterns of abuse, so let’s look at Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, all of these platforms are there patterns of abuse that need to be overseen by the attorney general? Or do we want to take that policy and hand it to thousands of lawyers so that they can take control of how it’s enforced? And I think step one is more appropriate at the attorney general level. If we have a problem down the road a year or two or three down the road and we see a pattern of abuse that needs individual action, then I told the governor directly himself, I would sponsor the bill. If we need to take that step, but you can never put the toothpaste in and I don’t think it makes sense to start there,” said Carlyle.

Click here to watch “The Impact”: February 5, 2020


Click here to watch an extended interview with Microsoft President Brad Smith covering AI, automation, affordable housing investments, capital gains tax and more.




TVW app on Google Pixel 5
TVW logo

Take us with you on the go

Your source for in-depth, around the clock, non-partisan Washington state news coverage.

TVW app on Apple iPhone