California poised to establish a new privacy regulator with ballot measure win

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California’s already tough privacy law is about to get a lot stronger as voters are expected to approve a ballot initiative expanding much of what the law covers this week. If approved, Proposition 24 would expand California’s privacy law to cover more sensitive data sets and establish a new state agency in charge of enforcing these rules for consumers. The result will be a higher standard for privacy in California and a powerful new state agency to take on tech companies.

As of press time, Proposition 24 is leading with 56 percent of the vote, as reported by The Sacramento Bee. Only about 65 percent of the vote has been tallied, but poll watchers expect the measure to clear based on the early returns.

“We are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society.”

The lead is strong enough that proponents of the bill are already declaring victory. “With tonight’s historic passage of Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act, we are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society by redefining who is in control of our most personal information and putting consumers back in charge of their own data,” said Alastair Mactaggart, Prop 24 sponsor and chair of Californians for Consumer Privacy, in a statement Wednesday.

The measure builds on the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA, which passed in 2018 and remains one of the toughest data privacy laws in the country. When the CCPA went into effect this past January, it gave Californians more control over the ways their personal data was collected, accessed, and sold by large tech companies. Under the law, Californians had the right to know what information companies held about them.

But activists like those at the American Civil Liberties Union say the CCPA has been compromised by loopholes allowing businesses to escape liability. Proposition 24 closes some of those loopholes (like providing additional protections for race, health, religion, precise location, and biometric data). It also establishes a state agency with the authority to enforce the law, something the California Attorney General’s office has been handling since CCPA became law. This new agency would have a $10 million budget.

Privacy advocates and civil rights groups have been divided over both the CCPA and Prop 24. Last month, California ACLU groups put out a joint statement opposing the initiative. “For every step forward, there are two steps back. That approach won’t advance privacy in California,” the groups said.

Even though the ballot initiative closes some loopholes, it still leaves some open. Californians are still required to “opt out” of data collection, requiring them to go through all of the apps and websites they use and set their data preferences rather than companies asking consumers for their explicit permission to sell data.

Those people in support of Prop 24 think it could set a precedent for future data privacy laws in states across the country. Andrew Yang told ABC7 News last month, “After this becomes the law in California, I believe other states are going to look up and say ‘why do Californians have all these data and privacy rights that we don’t have?’” Yang, the chair of the proposition’s advisory board, said. “So as usual, California could end up leading the way.”

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