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Montana lawmakers look at consumer-data proposal

Kathryn Haake, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- A House panel heard a bill Tuesday that would require companies to divulge the personal information they glean from consumers and to which entities they sell the information.

House Bill 572 would give consumers the option to request the personal information an entity has collected about them. Rep. Bryce Bennett, D- Missoula, told the House Business and Labor Committee the data collected by companies belongs to the consumers.

"The reality is ... there are these big companies that are doing this. They openly admit to doing this," Bennett said. "They are taking our data and selling it."

Bennett said the bill is a simplified version of previous data privacy bills that failed in the 2011 legislative session. Large companies, such as Verizon and Target, track such consumer information as purchase history and websites visited, using that information to market directly to the consumer or sell the information to third parties, he said.

The bill wouldn't prohibit the collection or sale of such information, but would allow consumers the right to access that information from the companies who collected it.

The measure was met by a number of opponents representing small and large businesses who called the bill a redundancy of strict regulations that already exist. Health-care representatives argued privacy is already protected in their industry and additional regulations would present unnecessary hurdles for health-care providers.

The bill would also require that companies appoint an employee to handle and respond to requests — a requirement that solicited objection from both small and large businesses.

Montana Retail Association spokesman Brad Griffen said big retailers don't have the infrastructure set up to handle a large volume of information requests from consumers and would be forced to hire more employees. Small business representatives agreed with Griffen, saying small businesses lack the manpower to follow through with customers' potential requests.

Bennett maintained the bill wouldn't affect small businesses and is aimed at large corporations that sell consumers' personal information for profit.

"I think that forever and always this information is about us and it's something that we own," he said. "We should have the ability to know when it's being pulled by different groups and who it's being disclosed to."

The committee didn't take immediate action on the bill.