Online privacy bill not what it seems

Photo illustration of encrypted internet information and a keyboard. (Image: Alexander Yakimov, via Shutterstock)

In the California legislature, a privacy bill – The California Broadband Internet Privacy Act – was originally drafted, ironically enough, in private.  Now, even though it has been amended multiple times, it still remains deeply troubling and will harm California’s consumers.

The bill is an example of what most Californians hate about our state’s lawmaking process.  It uses the “gut-and-amend” ploy, which means removing much or all of an original bill’s contents and replacing it with unrelated text, usually at a much later stage in the legislative process.  It’s a controversial move, particularly for a highly complex issue like regulating internet privacy.

Technology companies across the internet landscape recognize the dangers of this bill for the state’s consumers and have strongly opposed it.

At first glance, the bill appears sensible – keep consumer information out of the hands of internet providers.  But when you look more closely, the bill is cause for considerable concern.  Why?  It will harm consumers by opening the door to an increase in fraudulent transactions and cybersecurity threats.

In the haste to patch this bill together behind closed doors, its backers failed to authorize standard information-sharing between internet providers and trusted businesses such as banks to thwart online criminals and prevent consumer fraud.  Without this routine information sharing, internet providers will be hamstrung in their ability to work on the back end of their networks to help safeguard consumers.

More important, the bill opens consumers to an increase in online hacking.  Due to the bill’s onerous regulations, California internet users will become so accustomed to clicking through numerous permission screens that they could be easily tricked by hackers planting phony consent screens and inadvertently download malware that compromises their computer or discloses their most sensitive information.

That’s why technology companies across the internet landscape – including major technology companies headquartered in California – recognize the dangers of this bill for the state’s consumers and have strongly opposed it.

The California Attorney General already has the authority to protect consumers, regardless of the technology platform they are using.  There are existing privacy laws and regulations that protect health and financial information, data collected from children, e-mail content, and more.

These laws were developed thoughtfully and transparently to ensure they protect the privacy of internet users, and are the result of input from countless experts, open hearings, and comments from internet users.  In contrast, this legislation has been rushed through the legislative process without input from technology or community leaders.

The bill under consideration is a direct attack on the internet economy, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in California including start-ups, small businesses, and software companies.  And it sets a dangerous precedent, disregarding the state’s hands-off-the-internet policy, and opens the door for more state-level internet regulations in the future, freezing investment and economic growth.

While this legislation is well intentioned, it has not been given adequate consideration, leading to unintended consequences large and small.  It will open up California consumers to harm from hacking without doing anything to improve our privacy.  That’s why our leaders in the Capitol should reject this unwise and unnecessary legislation.

Ed’s Note:  Andrea Deveau is the Vice President, State Policy and Politics, for TechNet, the national, bipartisan network of innovation economy CEOs and senior executives.

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