California landmark privacy law, already most sweeping in US, could be expanded in 2020 ballot vote

25 September 2019 00:00 by Mike Swift

California’s landmark privacy law would be significantly expanded with the creation of a specialized enforcement agency and broader privacy rules for children and teenagers, under a ballot initiative to be launched by the developer who led the campaign to create the current law.

Alastair Mactaggart, who spent more than $3 million of his own money on the ballot initiative in 2018 that ultimately became the landmark California Consumer Privacy Act, said today he will launch a campaign to place a new privacy initiative on the 2020 ballot in part because of efforts by the tech industry to weaken the CCPA.

The industry failed to convince California lawmakers to make major changes to the new law in the just-completed legislative session. But in a statement posted on the website of his organization, Mactaggart said those efforts to weaken CCPA, coupled with the emergence of new surveillance technologies, are “not only immoral” but threaten democracy.

“Californians are overwhelmingly supportive of being in control of their most sensitive personal information, and they also want control over how their children’s data is used,” Mactaggart said in a letter posted on the website of Californians for Consumer Privacy, the group he founded. “Having seen the attempts to weaken what I see as a fundamental human right, I believe it is time to both permanently enshrine these rights, and to provide Californians the same level of protections that citizens have in the rest of the world.”

If Mactaggart’s campaign is able to collect the 623,212 signatures of California voters required to place an initiative on the 2020 ballot, California voters would go the polls not just to elect a president, but to vote on the creation of the first single-purpose US data protection authority, a proposed “California Privacy Protection Agency.”

Currently, the CCPA will be enforced by the California attorney general, although current Attorney General Xavier Becerra has yet to unveil a set of proposed regulations that would detail how the new law is to be enforced starting next year.

Becerra has repeatedly warned that the state lacks the resources to properly implement the new law. The current law will require larger companies that collect personal data to offer consumers the option to opt out of the sale of that data.

Mactaggart’s ballot initiative effort would have a deadline of the middle of March next year for the California secretary of state to determine whether the initiative petitions meet the minimum signature requirement, according the secretary of state’s office.

The existing law that takes effect next year is by far the most sweeping and significant data-protection law passed in US history, and it has been perhaps the most significant force in pushing the US Congress to consider federal privacy and data security legislation.

Mactaggart said he will propose that the CCPA be expanded to triple fines for violations of the law governing the collection and sale of children’s private information, and to require that parents assent to data collection to young people up to the age of 16.

There would also be expanded transparency rules around automated decision-making and profiling of consumers, requiring companies to disclose more information about decisions that affect areas such as employment, housing, credit, and politics.

“What this new law comes down to is giving consumers the right to take back control over their information from thousands of giant corporations,” Mactaggart said. “This is about power: the more a company knows about you, the more power it has to shape your daily life. That power is exercised on the spectrum ranging from the benign, such as showing you a shoe ad, to the consequential, like selecting your job, your housing, or helping to shape what candidate you support in an election.”

California is one of a number of states in the West that allow voters to bypass the elected legislature in voting directly on proposed laws, provided organizers of a ballot initiative are able to collect enough qualified signatures. That same process in 2018 led to the current law.

If Mactaggart collects enough signatures, his campaign is sure to touch off a high-spending political fight against the tech industry. Mactaggart has speculated that the industry would have spent $100 million to defeat his initiative in 2018 had he not agreed to withdraw it when the state legislature passed CCPA.

While details were lacking about the proposed ballot initiative today, Mactaggart is due to speak tomorrow morning at a large privacy conference in Las Vegas, and is expected to spell out more details of his proposal then.

“I look forward to making this case to the people of California, who so often lead the way for our country in breaking new ground,” he said in today’s announcement."

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