In an unprecedented push for citizen protections, specifically online privacy rights, California Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal introduced the "Right to Know Act of 2013" (AB 1291) earlier this year. While it was introduced in February, it has received national coverage recently as it advances to California's Judiciary Committee with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
With Internet giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google exponentially expanding their database of knowledge, it has become increasingly important to know what rights we have, and don't have, in the digital age. Facebook, for example, has collected the most extensive set of data online, selling it to marketing companies like Datalogix unbeknownst to users.
Surprisingly, however, the United States trails most European countries when it comes to securing rights to online privacy. As summarized by the Legislative Counsel's Digest, AB 1291 would require:
"Any business that retains a customer’s personal information, as defined, or discloses that information to a third party, 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 third parties with which the business has shared the information during the previous 12 months, regardless of any business relationship with the customer."
Simply put, the law would allow users to see all the information a company has about them, allowing them to make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to continue using the company.
Speaking to the importance of the California Right to Know Act, the EFF explains that the Right to Know Act would bring California law up to speed with the digital age, allowing users to track the spread of information from their online interactions:
"It's not just about knowing what a company is sharing, 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."
While it seems like a simple concept, the idea that online users have a right to know what information companies store, the Right to Know Act of 2013 would be the first of its kind in the United States. The law would give companies 30 days to comply with any requests; failure to do so would constitute an injury to the person(s) requesting the information.
In a February press release, Lowenthal echoes the need for modernized laws in California, explaining, "As technology advances, so should our consumer protections."
Would you support a Right to Know Act of 2013 in your state?