EFF makes its presence known in statehouses across the country to advocate for strong privacy laws, broadband access, and to protect and advance your digital rights. The pandemic has changed a lot about how state legislators operate in 2021, but one thing has remained the same: EFF steps up to fight for you from coast to coast.  

Golden Opportunities in the Golden State

We helped win a huge victory in for all Californians this year, finally securing an historic $6 billion investment for broadband infrastructure for the state of California. Building on the work and community support we started building in 2020 for investment to close the digital divide, we were able to help bring those efforts across the finish line.

EFF has vocally supported efforts to expand and improve broadband infrastructure to bring access to 21st-century broadband technology to every community. For years, internet service providers have carved up the state, neglecting low-income and rural communities. It's become abundantly clear that the market alone will not close the digital divide; that's why we need policy. The struggles many people had while learning and working remotely in the pandemic made it clearer than ever that California needed to change the status quo.

California’s new broadband program approaches the problem on multiple fronts. It empowers local public entities, local private actors, and the state government itself to be the source of the solution. Through a combination of new construction, low-interest loans, and grants, this money will allow communities to have more input on where and how networks are built.

This victory came from combination of persistent statewide activism from all corners, political leadership by people such as Senator Lena Gonzalez, investment funding from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress, and a multi-billion broadband plan included in Governor Newsom’s budget.

In addition to our broadband work, we also collaborated with other civil liberties groups in California on a couple of bills to improve privacy around genetic data. S.B. 41, authored by Sen. Tom Umberg, adds privacy requirements for direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing companies such as Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. It gives consumers more transparency about how these companies use their information, more control over how it’s shared and retained, and establishes explicit protections against discrimination using genetic data.

A.B. 825, authored by Assemblymember Marc Levine, expanded the definition of personal information, for the purposes of the state’s data security and data breach notification laws, to include genetic data. That means that if a company is irresponsible with your genetic data, they can be held to account for it.

We were pleased that Governor Newsom signed both bills into law.

Make no mistake: our victories are yours, too. We thank every person who picked up the phone or sent an email to their California representative or senator. We could not have done this without that support.

Across The Country

Of course, California is not the only state where we fight for your digital rights. We’ve advocated across the country—from Washington to Virginia—to fight the bad bills and support the good ones in partnership with friends in those states.

In Washington, we joined a coalition to help pass Rep. Drew Hansen’s HB 1336, which expanded broadband choice. Signed into law by Washington's Gov. Jay Inslee, HB 1336 will improve access not only for rural parts of the state, but also underserved urban communities.

Of course, we haven’t won every fight. Over our opposition, Virginia’s legislature passed an empty privacy law—weak, underfunded, not designed with consumers in mind—that puts the desires of companies over the needs of consumers. As Reuters reported, lobbyists for Amazon handed the bill to the author and pushed hard for it to pass. Virginians deserved better.

Privacy will continue to be a hot topic in legislatures across the country next year. We urge lawmakers not to look at weak bills, such as Virginia’s or the recent “model bill” put forward by the Uniform Law Commission as examples to follow. Instead, we urge you to consider EFF's top priorities for privacy legislation, including strong enforcement.

Looking Ahead

Our state legislative work is as busy as it’s ever been. We’re working with more partners on the ground in states across the country—especially those in our local Electronic Frontier Alliance—to connect with our fellow advocates and fight together for everyone's digital rights. We look forward to being just as busy in 2022.  

This article is part of our Year in Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2021.