Capitol Alert

California privacy package casts wide net

“The potential for data collection and the abuse is staggering,” says Sen. Ted Gaines.
“The potential for data collection and the abuse is staggering,” says Sen. Ted Gaines. AP

From televisions to body cameras to encrypted personal data, a package of bills announced on Wednesday underscored the California Legislature’s attention to privacy.

Acknowledging the downsides to informational ubiquity, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, this year launched a new Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, the panel’s chair, heralded bipartisan support for taller safeguards and announced legislation alongside Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.

“The potential for data collection and the abuse is staggering,” Gaines said. “Our privacy is under assault.”

Citing it as an example of how intrusive technology has become, Gatto promoted a bill banning the sale of televisions that can record conversations and transmit the results to a third party without a voice recognition feature being activated.

“At some point you have to say enough is enough. You have to say there are certain places where conversation should not be recorded, and I daresay the bedroom is one of those places,” Gatto said. “We’re not trying to hurt any technology, we’re not trying to make anybody’s profit margins go away,” he added, “but I do think television will survive without knowing what I said to my wife as I watched a Tide commercial.”

The push for tougher privacy protections could collide with law enforcement officials, who have opposed past bills limiting their ability to deploy new tools like drones, and from an increasingly influential technology industry resistant to new regulations on their products.

A group representing tech companies “will be working to ensure that any new law does not unduly hinder California’s innovation economy, which is driving growth and positive social progress,” Internet Association head Robert Callahan said in an emailed statement.

Other bills in the package would:

▪ Establish a minimum “reasonably prudent” data encryption standard companies would need to apply to personal data like health records.

▪ Bar drones from flying over schools.

▪ Require police agencies equipping officers with body cameras to develop a public usage policy; a separate bill shields from public disclosure body camera footage taken inside a home without a warrant.

▪ Impose tougher penalties for hacking data from a car’s computer and for “revenge porn,” in which intimate photos are distributed without consent.

The privacy committee may be novel, but some of the ideas Gatto and Gaines are tackling have been attempted before. A bill last year regulating unmanned aerial vehicles died on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (lawmakers have followed up with a handful of drone bills this year), and legislators have floated multiple measures around police-worn body cameras amid calls to curb police violence.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.