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Californians Say Yes to Expanding Nation's Toughest Data Privacy Law

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With no federal law governing digital privacy, California’s Consumer Privacy Act was the first to offer state residents some control over the use of their data by companies. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Californians approved a ballot measure to expand the state’s landmark Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) of 2018. The measure was passing with 56% of the vote on Wednesday.

Proposition 24 – also known as the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act of 2020 – will create a new state agency to enforce the CCPA. It will also create different tiers of data, levying stiffer fines on the misuse of “sensitive” data, like location or race. However, only companies that buy and sell the data from at least 100,000 customers a year would have to comply.

“We are at the beginning of a journey that will profoundly shape the fabric of our society by redefining who is in control of our most personal information and putting consumers back in charge of their own data,” said Alastair Mactaggart, chair of Californians for Consumer Privacy and Proposition 24’s sponsor. “I’m looking forward to the work ahead and the next steps in implementing this law, including setting up a commission that is dedicated to protecting consumers online.”

The CCPA, which took effect in January of this year, requires companies to disclose what data they are collecting while allowing consumers to limit or stop collection. Under the legislation, however, consumers can sue companies only if negligence led to the exposure of their data. Otherwise, the option to litigate remains with the state attorney general’s office.

The general outlines of the CCPA owe much to what was originally a ballot proposition also backed Mactaggart, a Bay Area real estate developer, in 2018. He agreed to drop the ballot measure in exchange for more easily amendable legislation – but unhappy with the amendments that followed, he decided to finance another ballot measure, Proposition 24, framing it as his preferred set of “fixes” to the CCPA.

Mactaggart spent more than $6.5 million on Proposition 24, dwarfing the amount donated by any other supporter, and the $52,000 raised by the campaign against it.

“It’s unexpectedly close, which affirms that Californians’ privacy rights are not for sale. Thankfully, groups like ACLU and EFF will fight for truly strong privacy legislation to give all Americans control over their personal information,” said Mary Ross, erstwhile ally of Mactaggart who led the No on 24 campaign.

Data privacy advocates split on Proposition 24

Its complexity – the ballot measure ran over 50 pages – was also an impediment to widespread enthusiasm and debate. Many privacy watchers say California voters like data privacy as a general concept and were willing to presume the best about Proposition 24.

“Only about half of U.S.-based workers are aware of the CCPA, though those numbers are likely higher in California,” wrote Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with Consumer Reports. “However, many companies haven’t made a good-faith effort to comply with the CCPA — companies including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Spotify claim that the opt-out doesn’t apply to their data practices, and consumers who tried to stop this data sharing were likely frustrated. Prop. 24 will help close up loopholes that companies have exploited to avoid complying with the CCPA, which will help ensure that consumers will be able to effectively exercise the privacy rights that they value."

Voters “have no idea that the CCPA already gives them most of the rights in [Proposition 24],” said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who co-directs the school’s High Tech Law Institute. “Thus, many voters voted yes ... because they mistakenly think it’s necessary to get any privacy rights at all.”


Consumer Reports and Common Sense were in the “yes” camp, along with Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate who was one of the foremost techies on the early campaign trail.

On the “no” side were the Consumer Federation of California, Media Alliance and a couple chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even before Proposition 24’s big win, California was leading the nation on consumer data privacy, given the absence of comprehensive federal legislation. Does that mean California’s new law will serve as a model for future federal legislation? That remains an open question, but Proposition 24’s backers have high hopes.

“It will sweep the country and I’m grateful to Californians for setting a new higher standard for how our data is treated,” Yang wrote.

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