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Consumer Watchdog Opposes Proposed LA Home Sharing Law That Violates Privacy

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John M. Simpson

SANTA MONICA, CA -- Consumer Watchdog today said it opposes a proposed Los Angeles City ordinance that would require home sharing platforms like Airbnb to turn over massive amounts of personal information to the city on a monthly basis, because it would violate consumers’ privacy and is little more than a “blank search warrant” for law enforcement authorities.

Consumer Watchdog’s concern is with the ordinance’s provision to require Internet home sharing sites, such as Airbnb, to turn over to Los Angeles on a monthly basis the home sharing registration number, address, number of nights rented, and amount paid to every owner that rents their property through the home sharing site.

“This is an unwarranted intrusion into users’ privacy and inappropriately requires the home sharing platform to do the enforcement work that should rightfully be done by the city,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a letter to the City Planning Commission.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrlahomesharing061316.pdf

“Imagine the outcry if California’s Franchise Tax Board required eBay to report the name, number of sales and amount collected in each sale for every person selling tchotchkes through the site, in order to seek out income tax cheats,” wrote Simpson. “Californians value privacy so highly we guaranteed it in the state Constitution. The users of home sharing sites have no less right to privacy simply because the companies are unpopular in some quarters.”

View the proposed  Los Angeles home sharing ordinance here: http://planning.lacity.org/ordinances/docs/HomeSharing/STROrdinancePublicDraft.pdf

A government request for personally identifiable data should carefully balance the right to privacy against the right to safety and security for the public. Judges typically need to issue warrants for such information because it is considered each citizen’s right to protect it. Throwing open the door to mass data collection  – with no legal justification like a warrant – would deal a serious blow to privacy rights in Los Angeles, Consumer Watchdog said.

It’s hard to think of a corporation ever being required to turn over massive amounts of personal identifiable information of citizens’ commercial transaction to a local government entity, Consumer Watchdog said.  Usually each request for a specific piece of personally identifiable data is typically seen through the lens of a specific instance where the right to privacy is carefully balanced against the right to safety and security for the public at large. Judicial officers typically need to issue warrants for such information because it is considered each citizen’s right to protect it, Consumer Watchdog noted.

Consumer Watchdog said it does not object to requiring people offering home sharing accommodations to get a business license and to pay occupancy taxes to the city, nor does it object to the city establishing its zoning restrictions.

“People using home sharing sites to offer accommodations should follow zoning laws and pay their taxes,” said Simpson. “However, the blunt approach to enforcement contemplated here is a slippery slope and a significant threat to privacy.”

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