Strongest Data Protection in US Now Law in California

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – With little time to spare before a Friday deadline, California lawmakers passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Thursday the strongest protections of consumer data in the nation.

The California Consumer Privacy Act passed both sides of the statehouse and trumps a competing initiative planned for the November ballot.

“Once again California is taking the lead in protecting consumers and holding bad actors accountable,” state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, said in a statement. “My hope is other states will follow, ensuring privacy and safeguarding personal information in a way the federal government has so far been unwilling to do.”

Data privacy has dominated headlines in 2018. Facebook found itself in hot water when it was revealed that personal information of up to 87 million people worldwide was exposed. The firm Cambridge Analytica compiled data from Facebook users to create software designed to predict and influence voters in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Facebook acknowledged it was aware of the breach as early as 2015, but did not take steps to correct the problem.

The effort to create strong consumer data protections found in Assembly Bill 375 began over two years ago, however, when Californians for Consumer Privacy chair Alistair MacTaggart began drafting an initiative. His measure received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but will now be removed in favor of AB 375.

“This is a monumental achievement for consumers, with California leading the way in creating unprecedented consumer protections for the rest of the nation,” MacTaggart said. “As the effort to empower Californians with critical privacy protections continues, we are heartened by and appreciative of the participation of many stakeholders and privacy advocates in this process and look forward to their continued involvement as the vision for greater consumer privacy becomes reality. It’s my strong belief that these new California rights will soon extend to the rest of the United States.”

The act is not without controversy – nor is it necessarily complete, something acknowledged by co-author Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park.

“I think one of the things we will be looking at is the private rights of action, which has been raised by a number of people,” Chau said. “The attorney general may have some issues that we need to fine-tune. There might be some immediate technical cleanup that we need to work on.”

The work that remains is due to how fast the act passed. The language of the bill was created on June 21 with the gut-and-amend of a previous consumer protections bill.

Because of the work needed on the bill, it will not take effect immediately. Instead, legislators plan to work with interested parties to identify issues and ensure the bill is as complete as possible when it takes effect.

“I think that, even though the law will be delayed in its implementation, I think it will have an immediate impact, just on the virtue of its existence,” Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of the bill, said.

The act provides broad consumer protections including the right to know all data collected by a business, the right to say no to the sale of information, the right to delete data and the right to know the purpose of collecting data for business or commercial reasons. An important element of the act is the robust protection of children’s data.

“Today’s kids are the most tracked generation ever,” Elizabeth Galicia, vice president of Common Sense Kids Action said. “Their personal information, activities and networks are exposed and often for sale. This law is a strong first step in protecting kids and all consumers.”

Opponents of the measure include Amazon, Google, AT&T and Comcast, which were expected to wage a multimillion dollar campaign had the act gone before voters. With the bill now safely signed, the bill’s supporters will now turn their attention to implementation.

“In many ways, the work has just begun,” Galicia said. “We must fight to ensure these rights are not eroded, we must ensure the attorney general can robustly enforce this law and we need to work to inform consumers of their new rights.”

The bill passed unanimously and it was signed into law by Brown during the press conference announcing its passage.

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