Senate Judiciary Committee gives nod to bill that would expand privacy lawsuits

Legislation that would allow any consumer to sue a business that used the consumer’s personal information without his or her consent was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-2 vote.

The hearing on SB 561 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) who is also the Chairwoman of the committee lasted over 90 minutes with several members of the committee questioning the wisdom of creating new private rights of action for violations of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

The bill was opposed by CNPA, the California Chamber of Commerce and almost every business group with a lobbyist in Sacramento.

Committee members were upset that SB 561 would undo the deal struck between business groups and privacy advocates last year when the CCPA was passed by the legislature in an effort to keep a similar measure from being put before voters as an initiative measure. Senator Bob Wieckowski summed up the concern this way, “If this bill is passed and becomes law, no one will ever negotiate with the legislature again.”

The CCPA in its current form places many new requirements on businesses that collect and use consumers’ personal information, including giving consumers the right to request what information a business has about them, to require the business to delete their information, and to prohibit businesses from selling their personal information.

Part of the deal struck between business groups and privacy advocates last year was that in exchange for these broad new rights, the emphasis on enforcement of the law would be through compliance done by the Attorney General – rather than allowing lawsuits by individuals – except in the case of a data breach.

SB 561 would allow individuals to bring lawsuits if they believe that their rights under the CCPA have been violated, rather than relying on the Attorney General to enforce the law. While that change may sound innocuous on its face, the reality for businesses will be an explosion of costly individual and class-action lawsuits.

SB 561 will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.