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Tech Mobilizes Against California Privacy Law

By Harper Neidig, THE HILL

July 1, 2018

http://thehill.com/policy/technology/394928-tech-mobilizes-against-cali…

The tech industry is mobilizing against a new California privacy law, likely the toughest in the country.

The California Consumer Privacy Act was rushed through the state legislature, where it was approved unanimously, and quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The new law requires websites to show users what data is collected on them, what the data will be used for and to identify third parties who have been given access to the data. Internet users will also have the right to opt out of having their data collected and sold and to request that their information be deleted.

It is one of the most comprehensive privacy laws passed in the U.S. and comes after the European Union implemented a set of data privacy regulations that cracked down on data collection practices.

But the law, which doesn't take effect until 2020, is now the center of a new fight as the tech industry pushes for changes.

Robert Callahan, the vice president of state government affairs for the Internet Association, said Thursday that the trade group is worried about the lack of input the bill received before passage.

“Data regulation policy is complex and impacts every sector of the economy, including the internet industry. That makes the lack of public discussion and process surrounding this far-reaching bill even more concerning,” Callahan said.

“It is critical going forward that policymakers work to correct the inevitable, negative policy and compliance ramifications this last-minute deal will create for California’s consumers and businesses alike,” he added.

“While today's law marks some improvements to an overly vague and broad ballot measure, it came together under extreme time pressure, and imposes sweeping novel obligations on thousands of large and small businesses around the world, across every industry,” said Katherine Williams, a spokeswoman for Google.

“We appreciate that California legislators recognize these issues and we look forward to improvements to address the many unintended consequences of th​e law.”

The bill though has also divided many privacy and consumer advocates.

Some see it as a landmark law that will shake up the nation's debate over privacy and data. But others have dismissed it as watered-down and would have preferred a ballot measure with even tougher restrictions on data collection.

That ballot measure also included a provision that would require a supermajority in both the Assembly and the Senate in order to alter its language, sparking alarm among state lawmakers.

Critics of the California law say the ballot initiative led legislators to quickly ram through their own bill first.

"It's clear that this law would not have passed had that ballot initiative not been hanging over everyone's head," John Simpson, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog, said in a phone interview.

Many privacy advocates say the law didn't go far enough in protecting users' data.

Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of California, says that the law doesn’t address any of the questionable data practices highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year.

“It's drafted in a very narrow way that really doesn't touch on most of the ways that information is shared in the current modern data ecosystem,” Ozer told The Hill. “This law is just riddled with tech industry exceptions and carveouts.”

Alastair Mactaggart, a real estate developer who helped bankroll the ballot initiative, has pushed back on criticism.

He said the law will set a standard for privacy advocates in other states.

“This is a monumental achievement for consumers, with California leading the way in creating unprecedented consumer protections for the rest of the nation,” Mactaggart said. “It’s my strong belief that these new California rights will soon extend to the rest of the United States.”

Simpson, of Consumer Watchdog, argues the law gives the privacy movement something to build upon.

“This is a huge step forward,” he said.

But both sides acknowledge that the fight over the law is not over yet.

Supporters insist they'll defend it from industry efforts to ease its regulations.

Simpson said there was broad support for tough privacy laws in the state.

“We had the signatures to go ahead with the ballot initiative,” Simpson said. “We could do that again if it becomes necessary.”

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