By Melody Gutierrez
California consumers will be given sweeping new internet privacy protections beginning in 2020 under a bill hurriedly passed by the state Legislature on Thursday and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who promptly signed it.
The governor signed AB375 within hours of its final approval by the Assembly, heading off a similarly worded initiative that had been headed to the November ballot. The bill's co-author said lawmakers may need to fine-tune the law down the line, but they had been forced to pass something now because of the prospect that voters would approve an initiative that couldn't easily be changed.
The backer of the ballot measure, San Francisco housing developer Alastair Mactaggart, had said he would withdraw it if the privacy bill were approved, and did so when Brown signed the bill. Thursday was the deadline to pull initiatives from the Nov. 6 ballot.
The deadline prompted lawmakers to jump-start efforts on a bill, which became AB375. It was introduced Friday and heard in committees this week before coming to the votes Thursday in both houses.
The Assembly voted 69-0 to approve it. A short time before, the Senate had approved it 36-0.
Under AB375, web users can demand that a business tell them what personal information it is collecting about them, whether it is selling or sharing it, and who is ending up with it. Consumers can also tell a company to delete their personal information.
Parents will have to give permission before a website, online service or mobile app directed toward children can sell the youths' user data. The bill also allows consumers to sue companies that fail to adequately safeguard their personal data, a provision that comes in response to data breaches such as the ones at Target and Equifax.
Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park (Los Angeles County), one of the authors of the bill, said the changes will empower consumers by putting them in control of how their personal information is being used.
Both Chau and co-author Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said that the tight timeline for passing the bill made it impossible to pull together an airtight measure, but that the protections in the measure were better than nothing. Legislators have suggested they could make changes with future bills, something that would be far more difficult if a ballot initiative passed.
"I'm the first one to admit that the process could have been better if we had more time," Chau said. "It moves the ball forward in advancing privacy protections of consumers and puts California ahead of the curve. I commit myself to working with all stakeholders to see if and how we can fine-tune this bill."
Opponents said they feared the bill could lead to a flood of lawsuits. A representative of the California News Publishers Association said the bill was so broadly defined -- with vague definitions of what information a consumer can prevent a company from using -- that it could be used by the subject of an investigation to thwart a story from being published online.
The California Chamber of Commerce and other opponents, however, said they preferred AB375 to the ballot measure because of the possibility the Legislature could refine it before it takes effect in 2020.
The opponents held out little hope they could defeat an initiative. Strengthening internet privacy gained traction with the public this year after Facebook acknowledged that the political data firm Cambridge Analytica had ended up with information from 87 million users' profiles without their consent.
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