A Letter from Alastair Mactaggart, Board Chair and Founder of Californians for Consumer Privacy

September 25, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Today, I filed an initiative to appear on the November 2020 ballot, the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act. Read the full initiative (with annotation) here: https://www.caprivacy.org/CPREA2020.


In the two years since introducing the legislation that passed as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which gives nearly 40 million people in this state the strongest data privacy rights in the country, I’ve realized the immense power consumers are up against when it comes to having true control over their own data.


During this time, two things have happened: First, some of the world’s largest companies have actively and explicitly prioritized weakening the CCPA. Second, technological tools have evolved in ways that exploit a consumer’s data with potentially dangerous consequences. I believe using a consumer’s data in these ways is not only immoral, but it also threatens our democracy.


It is for these reasons that I’m proposing a new law that would:  

  • Create new rights around the use and sale of sensitive personal information, such as health and financial information, racial or ethnic origin, and precise geolocation.  
  • Provide enhanced protection for violations of children’s privacy by tripling CCPA’s fines for breaking the law governing collection and sale of children’s private information and would require opt-in consent to collect data from consumers under the age of 16.
  • Require much-needed transparency around automated decision-making and profiling, so consumers can know when their information is used to make adverse decisions that impact lives in critical ways, including employment, housing, credit, and even politics.  
  • Establish a new authority to protect these rights, the California Privacy Protection Agency, which will simultaneously enforce the law and provide necessary guidance to industry and consumers, many of whom are struggling to protect themselves in an increasingly complex digital ecosystem, where hacking and identity theft remain a terrible problem.
  • Protect our democratic processes by fixing election disclosure laws and requiring corporations to disclose whether, and how, they use personal information to influence elections.
  • Most importantly, it would enshrine these rights by requiring that future amendments be in furtherance of the law, even though I am only setting the threshold to amend at a simple majority in the legislature.  While amendments will be necessary given how technically complex and fast-moving this area is, this approach respects the role of the legislature while still providing substantial protections for Californians from attempts to weaken the law and their new human rights.

What this new law comes down to is giving consumers the right to take back control over their information from thousands of giant corporations.  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.

Much of the technological revolution is wonderful, and I continue to be amazed that I have the entire contents of all the libraries of the world, all that is best about humanity and innovation, sitting in my pocket, available to inform and educate me.  But equally, we need limits so that people have some measure of equality in the face of this new technology.  Much as in my youth, when there were two societies separated by an iron curtain, and I am convinced that going forward, there will be a data curtain of sorts, separating countries where citizens have rights to stop the constant commercial surveillance that is underway today, and countries where everyone is watched, all the time, for various purposes that are out of a person’s control.

I am convinced that without regulation, this encroachment into people’s lives will distort the balance of power in society.  In a very fundamental way, democracy depends on privacy.  We are engaged in a new experiment now, where a handful of giant corporations know almost everything about us, chronicling everything we’ve searched for, following every one of our digital footprints, and analyzing that to control what we see every day. These are perhaps the most powerful tools for influence in human history…shouldn’t consumers have a choice about how their own data is used?

I believe that now is the time to move forward and build on the progress we have already made.  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. 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. 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.

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