A Near Privacy Sweep in California

by Zack Kaldveer, CFC Communications Director, Privacy Revolt

It was a near legislative sweep for privacy advocates this year as Governor Brown signed all but one of the key privacy bills that reached his desk. CFC-supported bills include:

SB 602 (Yee)
will ensure that government and third parties cannot access private reading records without proper justification. This is no small victory being that digital books will store data that can include books browsed, how long a page is viewed, and even the electronic notes written in the margins. It’s not hard to see the detailed portrait of your life such information could paint.

AB 22 (Mendoza) will prohibit a prospective employer from using consumer credit reports in the hiring process unless it’s directly related to the job. This bill was one of our top priorities this year for a number of reasons, including: credit reports do not have predictive value in determining a worker’s ability to perform job duties, while a bad credit report might unfairly influence a hiring employer’s attitude toward a job applicant; a significant percentage of credit reports are inaccurate, and correcting such information in a credit report is a tedious, time consuming affair; and millions of peoples’ credit reports have been decimated by a Great Recession that was no fault of their own, but in fact due to the actions of some of the very interests that then arbitrarily determine ones credit rating. For all of those reasons and m ore this legislation was a victory for both privacy and economic justice.

SB 24 (Simitian) will provide an important upgrade to California’s landmark breach notification law. It spells out which key details must be included in that notification letter, and would make sure the Attorney General hears about the breach. SB 24 will help consumers make sense of these notices, and help arm us to stop identity theft. Sony, Citibank, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit District are recent examples of businesses and government agencies whose customers’ records were stolen by hackers.

And just a few weeks ago it was revealed that 300,000 Californians’ intimate medical records, along with their social security numbers, were viewable for months to anyone with an internet connection, owing to an insurance processing business’ failure to safeguard its electronic data files. This massive medical records data breach leads us to another privacy related legislative victory: SB 850 (Leno), which will expand the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to both written and electronic health records.

Also of note, was the signing of SB 208 (Alquist), which will authorize restitution to an identity theft victim for expenses to monitor a credit report and for the costs to repair a credit rating, and SB 636 (Corbett), which will provide further protection to individuals participating in the Safe at Home Program – which provides anonymity to victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault – by prohibiting their addresses and telephone numbers from being posted on the Internet, and establishing crimes for publishing or failing to remove their identifying information.

Governor Vetoes SB 914 (Leno) – Police Search of Smart Phones

Currently police can seize and search an individual’s smart phone or android without a warrant, just like a traditional cell phone. SB 914 would have clarified that an arrestee’s cell phone can only be accessed with a warrant, except in circumstances where there is an immediate threat to public safety or the arresting officer. It acknowledges that accessing information on a cell phone is fundamentally different than searching an arrested person’s wallet, cigarettes or pockets. Being that modern cell phones are becoming more like all purpose computers, and therefore contain ALL KINDS of personal, private information, the authorities should not be granted the right to that information without a warrant.

As State Senator Mark Leno noted, "If you like to attend political rallies, parades, protests or sit-ins, you might consider leaving your cell phone at home in the unlikely event arrests are made. A recent California Supreme Court decision allows police to rummage through all of the private information on your smart phone as part of an arrest, including your text messages and e-mails. This warrantless search is now legal in California, regardless of whether the information on the phone is relevant to the arrest or if criminal charges are ever filed.’

This fight isn’t over. Senator Mark Leno has indicated he will bring this legislation back next year. Let’s hope we can change the Governor’s mind.