My turn: What I’ll tell Congress about CA’s new privacy law

By Alastair Mactaggart, Special to CALmatters

As a nation, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of understanding what information corporations such as Google and Facebook are collecting, mining, buying, selling and sharing about us and our families.

In California, however, we are trying, and that’s what I will tell the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation when I testify on Wednesday.

California’s new consumer privacy act should be the baseline for any federal law, and that the rights of California consumers are not only protected but expanded to other consumers in our country and around the globe.

The largest companies the world has ever seen have built an impenetrable fortress around the gold mines of information they have collected–information that just happens to be yours and mine.

Just the other day, Facebook experienced the largest breach in the company’s history, which may have affected as many as 90 million users.

A few months ago, public outcry around Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data breach of nearly 87 million users gave us an unprecedented opportunity to shine a light on the issue of the collection and sale of our personal information, without our permission.

In the wake of that breach, 629,000 Californians helped us put forward a ballot measure called the California Consumer Privacy Act, an initiative to give Californians the fundamental rights to:

  • Know what information companies are collecting about us and our families.
  • Tell those companies to stop selling our information.
  • Hold those companies accountable in the event they didn’t take reasonable steps to keep our information safe.

The idea was so compelling that the California Legislature, led by Sens. Bob Hertzberg of Los Angeles and Bill Dodd of Napa and Assemblyman Ed Chau of Monterey Park worked to pass the nation’s most sweeping consumer privacy legislation. In return, my partners and I withdrew our initiative from the November ballot.

The new law gives Californians the right to:

  • Know all data a business collects on you, and say no to its sale.
  • Be informed what categories of data will be collected about you prior to its collection.
  • Delete data you’ve given to a business.
  • Have the right to opt-out of the sale of your information to third parties
  • Mandate an opt-in before the sale of information of children under age 16.
  • Know where and why your information was acquired, and where it’s being shared.
  • Sue companies that don’t take reasonable steps to protect your information.

With Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, the 5th largest economy in the world had meaningful privacy protection for the first time.

Corporations are working to weaken the law.  But our legislators have stood firm so far. We know the forces arrayed against consumer privacy will be back in 2019. That’s understandable. These giant corporations make so much money from your information, in an unregulated world.

Big Tech may launch an onslaught next year, but we will defend the historic gains we’ve made this year, knowing we are on the side of history.

While this may just be one law in California, these giant, multinational companies soon will have to offer similar rights to all Americans.  How on earth are they going to tell a New Yorker or a Texan that what’s good for a California consumer, is out of reach for another state’s residents?  They can’t, and won’t.

Alastair Mactaggart was the chief proponent and author of the California Consumer Privacy Act. His email address is [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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