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California Goes Beyond GDPR With Data Privacy Law

In my home state, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 will take effect January 1, 2020. The good news for privacy professionals is that this bill resembles in many ways the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Much of the same data classification, business logic, and tracking of consent and preferences developed to comply with the GDPR should translate to this California law.

However, there are some key differences, which I will highlight below.

A little background and a race against time

While work on AB 375 began in February 2017, its passage yesterday is a direct response to current events. The legislation lists as one of its raisons d’être the recently disclosed actions of Cambridge Analytica, and a ballot measure, the “California Consumer Privacy Act,” that was designed to push the bill along. The measure had overwhelming popular support, and June 28 was the last day that the measure could be pulled from the ballot.

With the passage of AB 375, Alastair Mactaggart, chairman of Californians for Consumer Privacy and the major force behind the ballot measure, announced that the measure would be pulled, as was previously promised if the bill passed. The bill and the ballot measure were very similar, but by passing the bill, the California Legislature preserved its right to amend the law going forward and limited consumers’ rights of redress to breaches as opposed to all violations.

Taking GDPR a few steps further

There are several key differences between AB 375 and GDPR. The major ones are the right for consumers to sell their personal information (and by explicit reference in section 1798.125 (b), the right for a business to offer incentives to consumers to allow their information to be collected and sold), and, under section 1798.115, the consumer has the right to direct a business that sells the consumer’s information to disclose: a) what they are collecting; b) what they are selling; and c) what they are transferring for other business uses.

The right to offer incentives is a huge leap forward in that is allows firms to offer something (not necessarily money) in exchange for the resale of a consumer’s personal data, but it also establishes ownership rights in a whole new way. It’s one thing to control the use of one’s data, it’s still another to allow it only with compensation. It will be very interesting to see the market (consumers and data collectors) set the price. How much is your information worth?

California rightly excludes, under section 1798.145, the obligations where none of the covered activities take place in California and do not involve individuals who are in California at the time of data collection.

What’s next

As an information security professional, I have always used California (SB 1386), Massachusetts (201 CMR 17.00), Nevada (N.R.S. § 603A.010) and Texas (Texas Medical Records Privacy Act) as my state regulatory privacy proxies. I will immediately add AB 375 to that list and predict that the consumer backlash to the events and disclosures of 2016-2018 will cause other states to pick up where California has left off.


Bill Bonney is a security evangelist, author and consultant, and formerly VP and chief strategist at encryption software maker FHOOSH. He’s programs director for ISACA San Diego Chapter. Read more ISACA blogs here.

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