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California lawmakers pass tough new online privacy rules that could be a model for other states

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SAN FRANCISCO — California consumers would be granted sweeping new online privacy protections under a bill passed by state lawmakers. 

If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday, the new law would be one of the nation’s toughest and could serve as a model for other states.

Under the proposed law, consumers would have the right to know what personal information is being collected about them online and delete it. They would also be able to opt out of having their information sold. Businesses would be barred from selling the personal data of online users under the age of 16. The catch: companies could charge higher fees to consumers who choose to limit sharing of their personal data.

Approval of the California bill, introduced just last week, was rushed to head off a more restrictive initiative on November’s ballot that, if it had passed, would have given consumers even broader privacy protections including the right to sue if a company compromises their personal data.

The nation’s most populous state, considered a political trendsetter, is tackling consumers’ growing unease with the massive and largely unchecked collection and sharing of vast amounts of their private information that has produced a string of privacy mishaps such as the 87 million people who had their Facebook data improperly obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

The proposed California law is similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation rules, which took effect last month, but goes further, allowing consumers to opt out of their data being shared instead of forcing them to opt in to continue using online services.

“This law in California is going to raise the bar for consumers everywhere,” said Emily Rusch, executive director of CALPIRG.

Privacy advocates are already gearing up to press for similar legislation in other states. James Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media and one of the bill’s backers, says the new law will intensify pressure on Congress, which has failed for decades to enact laws that protect the privacy of consumers. 

The new law could be substantially changed before it takes effect in 2020. Corporations including AT&T, Verizon, Facebook and Google as well as privacy advocates will now line up to aggressively lobby to amend it.

Lawmakers had to scramble to pass the bill through committees and schedule votes in the state Senate and Assembly in less than a week. Though some say they had issues with language in the bill, lawmakers were unable to make amendments to the bill without delaying its passage.

The bill came to a vote in both houses Thursday. The Assembly voted 69-0 to approve it shortly after the Senate approved it 36-0.

San Francisco real estate developer Alastair MacTaggart said over the weekend that he would withdraw an initiative set for the November ballot that had gathered more than 600,000 signatures, but was opposed by the deep-pocketed technology and telecommunications industries, if lawmakers passed the bill and got it signed by the governor.

“I have some grave, grave concerns about this legislation,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, whose panel passed the bill Tuesday, told the “San Francisco Chronicle” this week. “On the other hand, it will go a long way toward putting control in the hands of consumers. With the widespread collection of all forms of personal information, it’s a critical time that we move on this issue.”

 

 

 

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