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Work and private use of online data are intermingled and both should be protected.


Work and private use of online data are intermingled and both should be protected.

(Jeff Chiu | AP photo)

In this March 26, 2018, photo, a man poses for photos in front of a computer showing Facebook ad preferences pages in San Francisco.

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There’s good news and bad news in the recent enactment of the Utah Consumer Privacy Act (UCPA), which now has been signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox. It takes effect on January 1, 2023.

On the plus side, Utah consumers will have the right to access and delete certain personal data maintained by certain businesses and opt out of the collection and use of this data by these businesses. The law also creates a right for consumers to know what personal data businesses collect, how businesses use this data and whether they sell this data to others. Upon request by a consumer, businesses will be required to stop these practices, as well.

Unfortunately, the new law does not adequately reflect the “new normal” of COVID-19 and the post-pandemic world that we will live in for years to come. That’s because the UCPA explicitly excludes consumers who are “acting in an employment or commercial context.”

But as a practical matter, those working from home are operating simultaneously in a household context and “a commercial or employment context.” The lines between these two are blurred and seem destined to remain so in a world where work from home is an established pattern of life that is destined to continue.

During the pandemic, when business locations and offices closed or limited their physical operations, vast numbers of Americans have continued as employees in work-from-home environments. According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, 17% of U.S. employees worked from home five days or more per week before March 2020, a share that increased to 44% during the coronavirus pandemic. And according to a survey by Reset Work, 86% of employers indicated that they are planning to adopt a hybrid model of work among those who have made firm commitments about a home/office mix; only 6% expect employees to revert to a traditional five-day workweek in the office.

Many, if not most, of these employees are using their own laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other devices on home broadband networks, managing all aspects of their personal and professional lives. Work and leisure now are merged as a practical matter. Our lives have converged into a new digital reality where we toggle back and forth between these two worlds with increasing seamlessness.

The larger lesson for this legislation is simple: Digital privacy protection needs to be envisioned for post-pandemic times, where exponentially more personal data is being generated with an inevitable intermixing between what used to be considered work with what was leisure.

All Utah residents should be protected by a law that enables them to power up and on at home with a greater sense of digital privacy.

Stuart N. Brotman, Knoxville, Tennessee, is the author of “Privacy’s Perfect Storm: Digital Privacy Policy for Post-Pandemic Times”.

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