Drew Liebert

Drew Liebert

Legislative Advocate at Purism
Drew Liebert

Latest posts by Drew Liebert (see all)

Next January, California is set to have one of the strongest laws in the nation, passed last year with unusual bi-partisan support, seeking to add some first-of-their-kind state protections over our personal data. It is called the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018. It nicely reflects the fact that our state is one of the only states in the country whose constitution in Article 1, Section 1, actually contains an express right of privacy guaranteed to all Californians.

This past year, since the bill’s passage, Purism has worked tirelessly–and dedicated substantial staff resources–to help make sure the new law is not substantially thrashed by Big Tech’s huge army before the fledgling law can even take effect: an army of highly-paid lobbyists. The stakes for Big Tech are large, but the stakes for consumer privacy, and for Purism’s philosophy of consumer privacy protection and control, are so much bigger.

To try to stem the extraordinary political muscle of Big Tech in Sacramento, Purism has worked in close collaboration with California’s top privacy protection groups including the ACLU, EFF, Consumers Union, Common Sense Kids Action and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and many others to try to stop the onslaught of Big Tech-sponsored bills seeking to vitiate the new law.

Our CEO has testified in legislative hearings against the weakening measures, and has recently co-written a powerful editorial published in the Mercury News, the newspaper in the backyard of Big Tech in Silicon Valley, against these bills. As Purism’s legislative advocate, I have met with key California legislators to try to thwart Big Tech’s predictable onslaught against this new law.

The new law is obviously a long overdue first step

It seeks to give consumers quite a bit more control over the vast data companies collect, store, share and sell about them–all without their knowledge or meaningful consent. Needless to say, the secret collection and sale of these extraordinarily valuable troves of personal data have made Big Tech companies some of the most valuable companies in the world, the most politically powerful–and the greatest threat to our most basic privacy rights.

Among the new law’s key requirements:

  • Businesses must provide certain disclosures when selling consumers’ personal information. This includes disclosing the categories of information the business has collected or sold, the categories of sources from which the information is collected, and the specific pieces of information collected about the consumer.
  • Additionally, the CCPA allows consumers who are 16 years of age or older to opt out of the sale of their personal information, with younger consumers needing to opt in before a business can sell their information.
  • Consumers can also request that certain personal information be deleted.

The new law is also obviously far from perfect, as Purism’s CEO repeatedly testified this year in the Legislature

It does not even require companies to give consumers the fundamental right to first affirmatively agree to opt in–to the selling or sharing of their private information, before it can ever be shared or sold–instead forcing unknowing consumers to try to figure out the labyrinth of (often purposely tedious and confusing) website requirements in order to opt out of the sharing of their most personal data.

Like all laws, it reflects substantial political and policy compromise. It only came about because the California Legislature felt it had no choice back in 2017: to respond to a pending, highly popular statewide ballot initiative which sought to empower consumers, to find out what information businesses were collecting on them, and give them the choice to stop the sale of their personal information. In exchange for the introduction of the new California Consumer Privacy Act, the sponsors of the ballot initiative agreed to withdraw their initiative, and the new CCPA was quickly shepherded through the legislative process and signed into law.

Though Big Tech companies were unable to stop the passage of this law, they were able to secure a major procedural loop-hole to give them future “bites at the apple” this year, before the new consumer protection law actually takes effect next year. They got the Legislature to agree to postpone its legal effect until next January 1st–giving Big Tech the chance to try to undermine the key protections the new law contains.

Some Big Tech CEOs publicly continue to assert they have become true converts to the importance of protecting consumer privacy

Instead, they–and their legions of powerful lobbyists–have, disappointingly, spent this past year in the California Legislature quietly attempting to do all they can to weaken California’s new privacy law before it even goes into effect.

I am therefore very pleased to report that, as the legislative year winds to a close this hot summer in California’s Capitol, Purism’s tenacious efforts, in collaboration with many other committed, non-profit privacy groups like ACLU and EFF–and the commitment to privacy by key legislators in Sacramento–appear to be paying off for California consumers. Although some measures are continuing to move forward that may relax some of the provisions in the CCPA, the many Big Tech-supported bills that have sought to substantially curtail consumer privacy rights have, at least for now, been halted.

Purism and its supporters can therefore be very proud; we are not just “talking the privacy talk” but “walking the privacy walk” when it comes to fighting for consumer privacy rights and consumer empowerment. Though the political battles are clearly never over, the social benefit company’s efforts to better protect our cherished personal privacy, and consumer control over our, and our children’s, privacy will always be worth the substantial effort and cost.

We shall continue this worthy fight.

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