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New California bill would allow customers access to what companies know about them

internetBy this point, most people who pay attention to the Internet activities are well aware that many companies collect a lot of information about you online. Such data brokers are estimated to have collected personal information from an estimated 500 million Internet users, even though they are unwilling to share the sources of said information with a congressional inquiry looking into the subject. Knowing that, don’t you wish that you were at least able to find out just what information was being recorded about you? Well, if the company is based in California, you may soon get your chance.

California Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal, a representative of the city of Los Angeles, has introduced a bill known as “The Right to Know Act of 2013″ that would compel California-based companies that store customers’ information to share that data with said customer upon request. If they do not comply, the companies can face legal consequences, including a civil suit on behalf of the subject.

According to the current incarnation of the bill, it would “require any business that has a customer’s personal information, as defined, to provide at no charge, within 30 days of the customer’s specified request, a copy of that information to the customer as well as the names and contact information for all 3rd parties with which the business has shared the information during the past 12 months, regardless of any business relationship with the customer.” The bill would also repeal and reorganize existing legal requirements concerning a customer’s right to privacy in the state.

The bill was introduced as the result of successful lobbying on the part of a coalition of parties including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. In a blog post detailing the bill, the EFF’s Rainey Reitman noted that, if successful, the bill would “update existing transparency law to ensure that users could track the flow of their data from online transactions.”

“It’s not just about knowing what a company is sharing,” Reitman wrote, “It’s about knowing what a company is storing. The new proposal would require companies to make available, free of charge, access to or a copy of the customer’s personal information. That means you the consumer will really know what information a company has about you.”

That the bill comes before Californian authorities shouldn’t be a surprise; the state has a reputation for passing laws regarding consumer protection, including the Californian Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires Californian-based websites to display their privacy policies concerning data collection clearly for users. Should the Right to Know Act pass in California, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly it becomes adopted throughout the rest of the U.S.