California Seeks to Expand Consumer Right to Sue Over Data Privacy Violations

Inside Subprime: April 15, 2019

By Grace Austin

California’s top lawyer wants to increase consumers’ data privacy by expanding their right to sue over violations, as lawmakers across the country debate further regulating consumer data protections.

The California State Legislature already passed a data privacy bill into law, the California Consumer Protection Act, last summer. It’s the first of its kind in the country. But the attorney general is now looking to hold companies that don’t comply legally accountable by amending the current law that goes into effect in 2020.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, introduced SB561 in late February 2019. It would allow consumers to sue companies that share or sell data without their explicit permission.

CCPA, passed in 2018, gives consumers in the state more ownership over their personal information that’s collected by businesses online, but also a chance to seek compensation from those businesses that violate the law. Companies would have to provide consumers with what personal information they’re collecting and, if asked to by consumers, get rid of it or stop selling it. Customers can get up to $750 per data breach.

Right now, there’s a loophole for that compensation under CCPA—if a consumer contacts the company and they fix the issue within 30 days, then the business is off the hook and can’t be sued.

That would be eliminated underneath the attorney general’s bill.

What consumers could sue for would also expand underneath SB561. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the state Justice Department said, for example, a company could be sued if it didn’t provide a proper website link where consumers could opt out of having their data being sold.

And the new bill would have the Justice Department present guidelines to companies on how to comply, but wouldn’t provide personal guidance to companies that ask for it as it would under CCPA.

Interestingly enough, as the Los Angeles Times reported, both Republicans and Democrats in California have introduced at least eight bills tacking onto CCPA regulations.

The Golden State discussion heats up as the federal privacy debate heads to Congress. The U.S. House and Senate held hearings on consumer privacy in February 2019.

Members of Congress questioned people ranging from businesses, technology groups, and privacy advocates on the delicate balance between enabling tech innovation and protecting consumers.

It comes after millions of Americans have had their private information breached, and in many high-profile incidents recently.

Many tech companies and trade groups have come out against SB561 and strict data privacy laws across the country. Much of the online privacy debate is centered on the tech titans. Still, some in the industry say they’re welcoming clear rules, even on the federal level, and want those to be enacted as soon as possible.

According to Fortune, that’s because the industry hopes federal legislation will be less strict, and can override the stringent rules at the state level that already exist and those that might be taking shape. There are now dozens of data privacy proposals springing up across the country.

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