The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Privacy bill too vague on who it's protecting


February 13, 2019

In a legislative first, freshman Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, asked the speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives to table House Bill 437, the “Right to be Forgotten Act & Private Info.”

The act came amid public backlash from the media and First Amendment activists.

The bill required that “a publisher shall remove inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate or excessive content regarding an individual, and any links or indexes to that content within thirty days of the date of receipt of a request to do so from that individual.”

According to the bill, information that falls into the inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate or excessive category could include anything that is no longer relevant to public discourse that could be considered as harming an individual’s reputation.

By that definition, content about Romero herself could have been considered for removal, including an August 2018 Santa Fe New Mexican article that reported an audit revealed her consulting company had received $26,862 in “improper expenditure payments” from the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities.

At the time, Romero said she had not knowingly violated any standards and had paid back the money after learning of the error.

Regardless, if HB 437 had become law, it is possible Romero could have used the act to force the newspaper to remove the article, or any mention of the incident in the future.

More concerning is that publishers who failed to comply with requests to remove information could have faced fines of $250 per day, more than twice what public entities are fined for not complying with Inspection of Public Records Act requests.

Romero, when contacted prior to the legislative session for an interview, declined to speak either in person or via phone, and instead requested all questions be sent to her via email.

In a Jan. 11 email, Romero listed multiple pieces of legislation she planned to sponsor, but did not mention anything concerning the right to be forgotten bill she introduced on Jan. 31.

She also did not mention privacy concerns in a paragraph concerning her main areas of focus.

After Romero introduced the bill, she again declined to speak via phone, and requested any questions be sent via email. An email sent Jan. 31, requesting an interview has not received any response.

Public outcry from the news reporters and first amendment advocates was swift and brutal for the freshman representative.

“This is maybe the worst pile of fetid garbage hardly veiled by proposed legislation I’ve ever seen,” New Mexico In Depth Criminal Justice Reporter Jeff Proctor wrote Feb. 1 on Twitter. “Ever. And I’ve seen some pretty gnarly piles of fetid garbage hardly veiled by proposed legislation in my day.”

That afternoon, Romero issued a statement claiming the bill was designed to stop revenge porn and cyber bullying.

“The intent of the bill was to protect victims of revenge porn, cyber bullying, and others,” she said in the statement. “I understand that the language was far more sweeping than intended, and I would never want to — in any way — undermine the 1st Amendment. Media plays an important role in Democracy and I respect and honor their contribution to public debate.”

It’s unclear why a bill allegedly designed to protect victims of revenge porn and cyber bullying did not include either term in the definitions or text of the bill. Also unclear is what “others” Romero was allegedly trying to protect.

— Tabitha Clay

Rio Grande Sun


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