New California Law Highlights Privacy in the Cyber Age

residents to gain control over personal info stored online and who sees it

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A new California law gives residents more control over their personal information, Axios reported. Starting January 1, 2020, Californians will be able to stand up to companies storing their private information online. Cyber-era privacy is often uncharted territory.

Close up of hands using laptop
Updated laws are needed to protect our personal information and how it is stored by companies online. Photo by Rynmden

According to the Axios article, the new law that goes into effect in 2020 will give California state residents far more power over their personal data as it’s stored online by companies. They’ll have the ability to see how much of their private information is saved, have the option to delete it, and be able to stop companies from selling their information to third parties. In the last 25 years, our notions of privacy and security have changed with the implementation of the internet.

The Trouble with FIPPs

Protecting anonymity is a great concern for many Americans. Fears of unsecured data have spiked alongside a resurgence of identity theft in the digital age. Unfortunately, laws pertaining to privacy from the government are nearly half a century old.

“All that’s left to protect anonymity from government intrusion are the statutory protections created at the federal level by Congress,” said Professor Paul Rosenzweig, Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. “Our concepts of privacy are embedded in a set of principles known as the Fair Information Practice Principles, or FIPPs, which were first developed in the United States in the 1970s and have now become the keystone of the Privacy Act of 1974.”

Unfortunately, the FIPPs are largely outdated. “The technology of big data collection and analysis just destroys these types of rules,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “A conscientious and fair application of these principles is in many ways fundamentally inconsistent with the way in which personal information is often used in the counter-terrorism context, or, for that matter, commercial in the context of commercial data analysis.”

Commercial Use of Data

So why are websites like Facebook and Google free if they provide us with so many services? It’s because the way that we “pay” them is through information about ourselves. “Commercial companies value that information,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “It lets them know what to sell you or how to try to influence you. In a very real way, some web services are free to you precisely because the accumulation of your data is their product.”

Much like California’s new law, Professor Rosenzweig predicted that the government, at the state and federal levels, will soon cast a wider regulatory net over commercial data collection. He likened probable future laws for online privacy to a “Do Not Call” list, saying that although he still gets some junk calls, it’s at a far lesser rate than it was before the regulations surrounding telemarketing came into play.

However, there are complications. “There is a growing connection between the commercial and political uses of your data, and politicians and political institutions may not want to see the privacy rules changed,” Professor Rosenzweig said. “For example, it is said that [former] President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign had one of the largest and most effective databases ever, merging commercial data like your magazine subscriptions with your voting records to target individual voter preferences.

“If that kind of use of your data is effective—and the president was re-elected, after all—how likely is Washington to ban it?”

Paul Rosenzweig, J.D., contributed to this article. Mr. Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School

Professor Paul Rosenzweig contributed to this article. Professor Rosenzweig is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. He earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and then served as a law clerk to the Honorable R. Lanier Anderson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.