Dan Walters

Opinion: California lawmakers work together to protect privacy

Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who chairs a newly created committee that deals with privacy issues, and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines are teaming up for one package of bills.
Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who chairs a newly created committee that deals with privacy issues, and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines are teaming up for one package of bills. TNS

As improbable as it may seem, there are some major issues in the California Legislature that attract bipartisan interest and cooperation.

A big one is protecting privacy in an age of ubiquitous, picture- and video-taking smartphones, camera-carrying drones, retail payment terminals, interactive cable television sets and countless other forms of digitized intrusion.

Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who chairs a newly created committee that deals with privacy issues, and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines are teaming up for one package of bills.

Their partnership symbolizes the bipartisan nature of privacy concerns, but they are by no means the only lawmakers who have introduced bills.

At least two dozen measures have been proposed, dealing with specific privacy issues ranging from the use of drones to tightening up responses to data breaches and cracking down on electronic peeping Toms.

Gatto’s centerpiece measure would ban the sale of television sets that are capable of eavesdropping on viewers and transmitting what they record to outside parties.

“At some point, you have to say enough is enough,” Gatto told reporters as he and Gaines introduced their package. “You have to say there are certain places where conversations should not be recorded, and I dare say the bedroom is one of those places.”

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

One Gaines bill would block the Air Resources Board or other agencies from collecting data from diagnostic black boxes on late-model cars on such matters as a vehicle’s location or speeds.

Gaines’ bill could affect an effort that’s underway in state government to create an alternative to gallonage-based fuel taxes for financing highway construction and maintenance. One alternative under study would be a mileage fee, but a potential stumbling block is how mileage information would be collected on individual cars without authorities spying on where motorists are driving.

Other privacy bills that face committee hearings deal with such specific issues as data collection from smartphones and other mobile devices, curbs on law-enforcement access to data, rules on dispersal of video from police body cameras, use of data from screening of newborn babies for disease, and privacy of Social Security numbers.

Despite the bipartisan interest in protecting privacy – and the assumption that the voting public shares those concerns – the bills won’t sail through the legislative process unscathed.

They potentially would curb profits of private companies that collect and sell data, make law-enforcement operations more difficult, and force bureaucrats and businesses to maintain more security, and thus will draw either outright opposition or demands for modification.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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