Brown signs data privacy bill; ballot fight avoided

An illustration of data privacy and the internet. <i(Image: Green Tech, via Shutterstock)

With only hours to spare, Gov. Jerry Brown headed off what was sure to be a multimillion-dollar initiative battle and signed legislation boosting the rights of consumers over how internet companies use their personal data.

Brown’s signing Thursday afternoon came after a scramble in the Legislature to get the measure passed in the face of a tight deadline.

The new law, which takes effect in 18 months, requires companies to delete information about consumers upon request, force firms to disclose what information is being collected and give consumers the power to block the sale of information that’s been collected.

The measure appeared to have sufficient signatures from voters to qualify for the November ballot if Mactaggart had wished to proceed.

The initiative’s sponsor, San Francisco developer Alastair Mactaggart, had promised to withdraw his initiative if the bill, AB 375 by Democrat Ed Chau of Monterey Park was approved Thursday by the Legislature and signed by the governor.  The amended bill was put before the lawmakers only a day before that deadline.

The bill was approved 69-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate, and sent to Brown’s desk. Mactaggart, as promised, pulled the initiative from the ballot. The measure appeared to have sufficient signatures from voters to qualify for the November ballot if Mactaggart had wished to proceed in the face of looming opposition from a number of huge tech and communication companies.

The language of the new law, dubbed the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, covers an array of digital privacy issues.

“Many businesses collect personal information from California consumers. They may know where a consumer lives and how many children a consumer has, how fast a consumer drives, a consumer’s personality, sleep habits, biometric and health information, financial information, precise geolocation information, and social networks, to name a few categories,” according to the text of the bill.

“The unauthorized disclosure of personal information and the loss of privacy can have devastating effects for individuals, ranging from financial fraud, identity theft, and unnecessary costs to personal time and finances, to destruction of property, harassment, reputational damage, emotional stress, and even potential physical harm,” the law notes.

Five key provisions give Californians the right:

–To know what personal information is being collected about them.

–To know whether their personal information is sold or disclosed and to whom.

–To say no to the sale of personal information.

–To access their personal information.

–To equal service and price, even if they exercise their privacy rights.”

The bill will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Between now and then, lawmakers have said they would work to iron out any problems that may emerge from the legislation, especially those in connection with consumer lawsuits against companies.

Agreement to attempt last-minute legislation substituting for the initiative came after a week of tense, closed-door negotiations between the initiative’s backers and the affected internet companies.

The authors of AB 375 were jubilant after Brown signed their bill.

“Today, California took a historic step in enacting legislation to protect children and consumers by giving them control over their own personal data,” Chau said in a statement. “Consumers should have a right to choose how their personal information is collected and used by businesses. It is your data, your privacy, your choice.”

“Today the California Legislature made history by passing the most comprehensive privacy law in the country,” said another of the bill’s authors, Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys.) “We in California are continuing to push the envelope on technology and privacy issues by enacting robust consumer protections – without stifling innovation.”

“Once again California is taking the lead in protecting consumers and holding bad actors accountable,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, (D-Napa), a third author. “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.”

Initiative sponsor Mactaggart said the legislation would have national implications:

“I feel like it’s the first step, and the country’s going to follow. Everybody is finally waking up to the importance of digital privacy.”


Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: