Legislation Filed To Protect Privacy of Cable Television Subscribers

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Today legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate to ensure the privacy of cable television subscribers.  Senate Bill 5868 and House Bill 1842 prohibit a cable company from revealing to any third party which cable services an individual subscriber receives, or the extent or nature of the subscriber’s viewing or use of other cable services.  Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles is prime sponsor of the Senate measure, and Representative Erik Poulsen is prime sponsor of the House measure.  This same bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2000 but was not acted upon by the House.

 The bill responds to the cable company AT&T Broadband’s claim of a right to market lists of its subscribers, including the particular cable service to which an individual subscribes.

 “There is little doubt that most Washingtonians would be shocked to know their cable company was selling information about their television viewing habits,” said Jerry Sheehan, Legislative Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. “Senate Bill 5868 and House Bill 1842 will end this practice in our state.”                                 

A list of subscribers’ cable services can indicate quite a bit about a person’s viewing habits and beliefs.  This becomes especially true as the choices of cable services multiply and become more diverse.

 For a cable company to claim the right to market lists of services to which an individual subscribes violates the spirit and intent of the federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.  Senate Bill 5868 and House Bill 1842 will make it clear that, for Washington cable customers, the law prohibits disclosure of the particular cable services to which individuals subscribe.

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