Federal lawmakers and the California Attorney General are focusing yet again on privacy-related issues.
California AG Kamala Harris announced the creation of a new unit focused on consumer privacy. The six-person Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit “will focus on protecting consumer and individual privacy through civil prosecution of state and federal privacy laws,” she said in a statement.
Noting that the California constitution “guarantees all people the inalienable right to privacy,” Harris said the new unit will have a broad mission. “It will enforce laws regulating the collection, retention, disclosure, and destruction of private or sensitive information by individuals, organizations, and the government. This includes laws relating to cyber privacy, health privacy, financial privacy, identity theft, government records and data breaches.”
The new unit reinforces Harris’ focus on privacy issues after the settlement reached earlier this year with six major mobile app makers for alleged violations of California’s privacy law, an agreement which Facebook recently joined.
In other privacy-related news, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Tex.), and six other members of the House of Representatives launched an investigation into the practices of nine national data brokers.
Sending letters to Epsilon, Equifax, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Intelius, FICO, Merkle, and Meredith Corp., the lawmakers expressed concern that by combining offline and online information the companies have “developed hidden dossiers on almost every U.S. consumer.”
“This large scale aggregation of the personal information of hundreds of millions of American citizens raises a number of serious privacy concerns,” the lawmakers wrote, particularly for children and teens. Further, the data brokers have also reportedly engaged in a ranking system of consumers akin to “redlining,” the legislators said.
The letters request a list of each entity from which the companies have received data about consumers, the type of data received and pose specific queries about whether social media and mobile activity are used to collect data. The letters ask whether consumers can obtain information about themselves, opt out of collection, or have their information deleted. Details about the storage of data and security measures are also part of the inquiry.
To read the press release about California’s new privacy enforcement unit, click here.
To read the letters to the data brokers, click here.
Why it matters: Privacy remains a hot button issue for both state and federal lawmakers. California’s AG Harris has called privacy one of her “top priorities” and the new unit will likely result in more enforcement actions in the state. As co-chairs of the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, Reps. Markey and Barton have focused on a broad range of privacy issues, from concerns about mobile privacy to children’s online privacy.