A closely watched piece of California legislation that would have regulated the privacy controls of social networking sites has been voted down by the state Senate – twice.
The Social Networking Privacy Act would have required sites to establish a default privacy setting making all information about a user – except name and city of residence – private, absent the user’s express agreement to make the information public. The law required that sites allow users to choose their privacy settings during the registration process in an “easy to use format,” with an explanation of users’ privacy controls in “plain language.” If requested by a user (or the parent of a minor under the age of 18), the law mandated that sites remove personal information within 48 hours.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but failed a floor vote in the state Senate.
Prior to the vote, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ellen Corbett, told her fellow legislators that “It’s crucial, members, for us to remember that our private information is not a commodity owned by the Internet to be shared and disclosed by third parties. . . . In fact, members, we on this floor are some of the few people who can do something about that,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
But the vote resulted in a deadlock, 16-16, with several lawmakers declining to vote, leaving the measure short of the 21 votes necessary to pass it. One week later a second vote resulted in a 19-17 vote, still two votes short of the necessary majority. In a statement after the legislation failed to pass, Sen. Corbett said she felt “terrible for children, their parents and the many others who are at risk of being victims of identity theft or other criminal activity because their private information falls into the wrong hands. It is clear to me that everyone, and especially children, who use social networking sites needs their personal information better protected.”
To read the failed legislation, click here.
Why it matters: While state Sen. Corbett vowed to reintroduce the legislation, she faces a vocal and active opposition made up of major Internet companies like Facebook, Google, Skype, Twitter, and Yahoo!. Prior to the Senate vote, the companies sent a letter arguing that the law is unnecessary and unconstitutional, violating users’ First Amendment rights by imposing restrictions on their free speech. In addition, the law would have raised Commerce Clause problems by imposing different rules on California citizens and companies than the rest of the country, the companies argued. After the first vote, a spokesperson for Facebook told the San Francisco Chronicle that “lawmakers rejected [the bill] today because it was a step in the wrong direction for California’s growing Internet industry at a time when the state’s economy can least afford it.”