Assemblywoman pushes for update to tech privacy law

February 25, 2013 1:06:45 AM PST
In a world filled with smartphones, GPS and Internet tracking, privacy is hard to come by. Lawmakers have passed landmark legislation, only to find it overwhelmed by the technology it's attempting to reign in. If there is one thing the Silicon Valley has taught us, it is that if you are not moving forward, you are losing ground.

California's privacy laws have been caught in a time warp.

When this was a state of the art computer and this was as smart as phones got, the California legislature made a bold technological move. It passed a law called 'Shine the Light,' allowing consumers to keep track of what personal information companies were gathering and using.

The American Civil Liberty Union's Nicole Ozler explains the thinking at that time, "In 2003 it was really useful for consumers to be able to ask companies, 'Hey are you going to share my information with another company and am I going to end up getting a piece of mail from them,'" she said.

Back then the big concern was with our personal information being used to bother us -- telemarketing calls, extra junk mail, that sort of thing.

"Californians are allowed to ask companies how they shared their information with other third parties for direct marketing purposes," Ozler said. "But direct marking purposes is really narrowly defined. It doesn't fit all the ways companies are now sharing or selling their information."

Now our every move is tracked online. Offline, our mobile phones and GPS tell data gathers what stores we shop in, the restaurants we visit.

Sara Matlin recently tried using the 'Shine the Light' law, "I wanted to know what information they thought I had shared with them, but also what information they had shared with other companies," she said.

Matlin asked Instagram, Facebook, and others What are you doing with my information?' and she heard back.

"So I have no complaint with how long they took," Matlin said. When asked what information she got, Matlin answered, "Nothing, really. What they said is, in some cases they said we don't share any personal information with third party companies for marketing purposes."

Time had created loopholes. She wanted to know how her information was being used, not how it was being used to make phone calls or send junk mail. Yet that is how they had answered. She didn't get the information she was hoping for.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal says the companies may be following the letter of the law, but the law is a decade old, "If you sign up for something, that information, personal information, geographical information can go over the wires before you finish signing your name," she said.

Lowenthal has just introduced legislation updating the 'Shine the Light' law. She spoke exclusively with 7 On Your Side about it.

"It does not prevent them from sharing, but it does require them to respond," Lowenthal said. "If you ask them what they have shared and with whom they have shared."

No more loopholes. If they gathered it, if they shared it, they would have to tell you about it.

"The difference between 'Shine the Light' and a privacy policy is the privacy policy will tell you all the things a company may do," Lowenthal said. "'Shine the Light' will actually tell you about your information what information has been gathered about you and how that information has been shared with other companies."

Assembly Bill 1291 was introduced on Friday.


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