California lawmakers push last-minute data privacy bill
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lawmakers are scrambling to meet a tight deadline to pass an internet privacy bill and keep a related initiative off the November ballot.
The bill would empower consumers to ask companies such as Google or Facebook what personal data they’ve collected, why it was collected and what categories of third parties have received it. Consumers could then ask companies to delete their information and refrain from selling it.
Companies could offer discounts to customers who allow their data to be sold and could charge those who opt out a reasonable amount based on how much the company makes selling the information.
The bill, AB375 by Assemblyman Ed Chau, would also bar companies from selling data from users under 16 without consent. It would take effect in 2020.
Lawmakers negotiated the legislation with San Francisco housing developer Alastair Mactaggart, who has spent millions of his own money collecting signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would do many of the same things as Chau’s bill. Mactaggart said he’ll withdraw his initiative if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the legislation by Thursday, the deadline for removing a measure from the ballot.
Tech giants such as AT&T and Google oppose the initiative. It wasn’t immediately clear where they stand on the legislation.
Opponents of the initiative have argued it would create different standards for companies in California and could limit residents’ choices. A spokesman for the campaign against the ballot initiative declined to comment Friday on the legislation.
The initiative and bill come amid a national debate over how companies handle users’ data. Facebook, which initially gave money to oppose the initiative, has faced intense scrutiny after news broke that Republican-linked consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected data from millions of Facebook users without their knowledge.
Backers of the policy also point to massive data breaches in recent years at large companies including Target and Equifax as reasons to strengthen data privacy protections.
“Legislators have an obligation to ensure privacy rights for online consumers,” Chau, an Arcadia Democrat, said in a statement. “The agreement reached with the initiative proponents to move forward with a legislative solution is a significant step in providing California consumers more control over their data.”
Assembly and Senate leaders support the bill. Brown’s office wouldn’t say where he stands.
Mactaggart said he’s skeptical lawmakers will be able to pass the bill in the short timeframe, especially because tech companies have a very powerful lobbying presence in California.
He said he supports both the bill and his initiative. Mactaggart said that compared with his initiative, the bill gives consumers more access to the actual data collected on them but less information on the companies buying it.
His initiative would let consumers sue companies for security breaches even if the consumer can’t prove they were harmed as a result. The bill has lower penalties for companies and a more narrow process for consumers to sue.
But Mactaggart said both the bill and his initiative accomplish essentially the same thing.
“Either one would be a giant step forward for California consumers,” he said. “And as California goes, so goes the nation.”
Once voters pass an initiative, lawmakers require a two-thirds vote to alter it. If lawmakers instead pass the bill through the legislative process, they can more easily amend it in the future.